GLENDALE, Ariz. — Austin Jackson played his first Cactus League game for the White Sox on Sunday, going 1-2 with a walk and playing five innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The 29-year-old, who signed a one-year, $ 5 million deal March 6, started in center field a day after playing in a B game against the Texas Rangers.
“He talked his way in,” manager Robin Ventura said. “He felt like he had a good outing for the B game and felt good today and he’s like, I’m ready to go.”
Jackson is still working his way into baseball shape but felt good enough after three at-bats Saturday (he didn’t play the field) to get in the lineup Sunday.
"That was the next step was getting out there and putting it to the test," Jackson said. "There was nothing else I really could do as far as sim games. The next step was to get out there, get in the game and test it out that way."
Jackson’s addition to the White Sox should provide Ventura with some much-needed flexibility this summer. Adam Eaton — who’s DH’d this spring due to a shoulder issue but is targeted to play the field by March 23 — can comfortably play all three outfield positions, Ventura said.
“He will be able to move around and he was pretty receptive to it,” Ventura said. “Even during BP, he’ll go take fly balls in different spots in the outfield and looks pretty good.”
Jackson probably won’t move off center field, where advanced metrics rate him as a plus defender, but Eaton’s ability to play the corners could allow Melky Cabrera or Avisail Garcia — who aren’t graded favorably by UZR and DRS — to serve as the team’s designated hitter at times.
The White Sox outfield defense was rated as the second-worst in baseball by UZR and fifth-worst by DRS last season, so Jackson provides a boost there, too. And the ability to rest a player while still keeping him in the lineup is important.
Not only does that flexibility exist in the outfield, but Brett Lawrie’s ability to play both second base and third base, in addition to Jose Abreu and Adam LaRoche filling time at first base, adds to what's at Ventura's disposal. Last year, that flexibility didn’t exist outside of Abreu and LaRoche at first base.
Ventura sees a long-term positive payoff for it.
“You’re not locked into wearing a guy out,” Ventura said. “You can more easily give a guy a breather when you need to because there are guys who can move around the field, so you can get them out of a game earlier or give them a day off, pinch-hitting, and you’re still able to move the pieces around and have a good enough defense that you feel comfortable putting them out there.”