ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — As a defender, Adam Eaton thinks he’s much more the player from 2014 than the guy from last season.
So far, the numbers suggest he’s correct.
The White Sox outfielder has looked extremely smooth in making the transition to right field from center field in the early going. Through 10 games, Eaton leads all outfielders with five Defensive Runs Saved, according to fangraphs.com.
“I’m a bonafide dog,” Eaton said. “Realistically, (Austin) Jackson puts me in a spot and I wag my tail and when the ball is hit out there I retrieve it and throw it back in. There’s no thought process, there’s no nothing. You just know your surroundings and make the play the best that you can. It has simplified things.”
It also has dramatically improved them.
The White Sox entered Saturday tied for second in the majors in DRS with six. Last season, they finished 28th among 30 teams at minus-39. Eaton’s defensive struggles were a big reason why as he finished 56th among 60 qualified outfielders with minus-14 DRS.
“They were bad,” Eaton said of the numbers.
But he feels like he’s more the type of player who was among the finalists for the 2014 Gold Glove. The addition of Jackson, who signed a one-year deal for $5 million in March to play center, has freed up Eaton to do what he does best — go and get the ball.
On Friday that meant racing into the gap to rob Corey Dickerson of extra bases. He also made a nice running catch in shallow right on a tricky fly off Evan Longoria’s bat to end the game.
“I thought he made three great plays,” said Chris Sale, who benefitted from Eaton’s play. “The last out of the game he ran down a ball that was hit well. I think he’s making that transition very well and it makes our outfield even better.”
The White Sox had a sense Jackson’s presence would dramatically improve an outfield that ranked 26th in the majors in DRS. Eaton gives Jackson much of the credit, noting that his communication and knowledge of hitters has made everything easier.
“Always talking to me and making sure I’m comfortable in the spot that I am in,” Eaton said. “He knows hitters really well. It has been an easy transition.”
White Sox manager Robin Ventura said the transition isn’t as easy as Jackson and Eaton have made it seem.
Eaton has had to adjust to different sightlines and how lights affect plays. For example, at the Tropicana Dome there are two different banks of lights to deal with. There’s also communicating with Jackson, but Eaton said that has come easy.
One aspect that is much easier is Eaton has less ground to cover. Whereas he used to patrol two gaps and everything in between, now he has one gap and an extra wall to deal with.
And so far, Eaton’s made it all look easy.
“He looks great,” Ventura said. “I think he put a lot of work in. You start looking at him maybe in the past of being a little more comfortable on the corners, but I think he’s done a great job of acclimating himself. For a couple of years now he’s been strictly in center. He gets a great jump on the ball when he’s on the corners. There’s probably a possibility of him playing a little left too at some point, but he’s been great in right field.”