After having my Baltimore preview rendered irrelevant the day prior, Jackie Bradley Jr. thankfully didn’t find himself traded/injured/prematurely-retired by the time my 2014 MLB Season Preview rolled around to Boston yesterday. From one promising center fielder to another then, as today I focus on Adam Eaton – one of the many young players the Chicago White Sox will be hoping break out this year. They could sure use some impetus in 2014.
Did you know the White Sox last 99 games last year, and compiled the third worst record in the majors? I’m guessing if you’re a Chicago fan, sure you already did – I don’t mean to rub it in. I was just surprised. Obviously Detroit were a good team in winning 93 games and the AL Central, and both Cleveland and Kansas City defied the curses placed on their respective towns and improved, but finishing behind lowly Minnesota? I had no idea the Sox had sunk so low.
And therein lies the problem. Despite finishing fourth in the AL in ERA+ (their 108 being tied with Boston), Chicago traipsed through 2013 devoid of inspirational hitting or defense; their OBP mark of .302 was second-worst to only the historically abysmal Astros, whom also redeemed the Sox (-72) from the ignominy of being ranked last in Rtot (Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Average). With nominal ‘Face of The Franchise’ Paul Konerko in the twilight of his career, Adam Dunn doing Adam Dunn-like things, and an otherwise uninteresting flotsam of role players, Chicago lacked the identity necessary for public concern. Enter Eaton.
After batting a combined .375 with 59 XBH (7HRs), with 48 RBI, 130 runs scored and 44 stolen bases in 130 games with Class AAA Reno and AA Mobile, as a member of the Diamondbacks organization in 2012, expectations were sky-high for Eaton entering last year; Keith Law tabbed him his top potential impact rookie, while Baseball America ranked the former 19th round pick as Arizona’s third-best prospect, the best hitter for average in the system, the fastest baserunner, and the best outfield arm. After suffering an injury to his left ulner collateral ligament in March however, Eaton was limited to just 66 games in which he slashed only 252/.314/.360. Having seen AJ Pollock develop into a competent starter in his absence, (and perhaps Eaton’s apparently abrasive locker-room personality) when the opportunity arose for Arizona to acquire the power bat they had for so long craved, their once-hyped prospect was deemed expendable.
Acquired in December’s three team trade that saw Mark Trumbo go to Arizona, and Chicago effectively swap Hector Santiago for Eaton, Chicago’s GM immediately alluded to his new center fielder’s fiery disposition: “This is a dirtbag baseball player… This is a guy who has been described to me by someone with words I can’t use. But we were looking to give us an edge that we were lacking a little bit in recent months.” More than just his scrappy attitude however, Eaton’s potential for a significant on the field impact makes his acquisition a good piece of business relative to Chicago’s climb back to relevancy; with his salary under team control through the next two seasons (he’s first eligible for free agency in 2019), Eaton represents the latest step in Chicago’s effort to build a foundation for future success through youth, joining the likes of Avisail Garcia and Jose Abreu as a cog which should still be in place as part of the next relevant Sox team. The 25 year old’s arrival in center field also makes the defensively shaky Alejandro De Aza surplus to requirements – if traded at the right time, his departure could further net Chicago a useful young piece or two.
In taking advantage of Arizona’s curious policy of selling players at their lowest value (Justin Upton anyone? Trevor Bauer?), Chicago have cheaply procured a multi-faceted piece they sorely lacked ever since Juan Pierre left town – a prototypical leadoff fitter, strong outfielder, and threat on the base paths. At 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds, Eaton will primarily be expected to dig in and do whatever it takes to get on base – improving that ghastly 2013 OBP – from which he can then showcase his famed all-out attitude; “If I’m on first base I’m going to score for my guy because I want him to get an RBI,” said Eaton in January, “I don’t see playing the game any other way. I may be out of this game in five years because I’m playing so hard, but that’s the only way I can play and the only demeanor I can bring to this team.” The attitude comparisons to AJ Pierzynski are almost too obvious, but it’s clear that Eaton is ready to step into the shoes left vacant as Chicago’s resident irritant. Sox fans can dream of a similar victory parade moment as Pierzynski’s immortal 2005 ‘thanks for putting up with me’ quote; I’ll be content with measuring Eaton’s impact by my capacity to recall Chicago’s 2014 record next year.