White Sox

Adam Eaton's easy transition has improved White Sox defense

Adam Eaton's easy transition has improved White Sox defense

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.”

White Sox Talk Podcast: American League All-Stars rave about Jose Abreu

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: American League All-Stars rave about Jose Abreu

With Jose Abreu playing in the All-Star Game, we asked some of his American League teammates about the White Sox first baseman. Justin Verlander, Craig Kimbrel and Michael Brantley rave about Abreu, explaining why he’s such a great hitter and a tough out for pitchers. 

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

All Star of the present Jose Abreu trying to help Yoan Moncada become the All Star of the future for White Sox

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USA TODAY

All Star of the present Jose Abreu trying to help Yoan Moncada become the All Star of the future for White Sox

WASHINGTON, D.C. — While the White Sox wait for their All Stars of the future to develop, Jose Abreu is representing the club at the All-Star Game in the nation’s capital.

Abreu, elected by the fans to be the American League’s starting first baseman Tuesday night, might represent the White Sox present, but he’s a key part of their future, as well. While his contract situation remains a mystery — the team would need to extend him in order to keep around past the 2019 season — he’s helping to develop the players who are planned to make up the next contending group on the South Side.

No player is more under Abreu’s guiding hand than Yoan Moncada, his fellow Cuban who just a season ago was the No. 1 prospect in baseball. Moncada’s development from top prospect into star of the future is the biggest storyline of the season for the White Sox. And Abreu, the role model in this clubhouse, is in part tasked with helping Moncada do just that.

“Our friendship is special,” Moncada said through a team translator last week. “We’re always talking about everything, having fun. He gives me advice, and I always try to make fun of him. Our relationship has been for a long time. We were friends in Cuba. And now we are rejoined here. It’s just a very good relationship. I’m blessed having him here.”

“He’s a Cuban, and it’s always special to play with a fellow Cuban countryman. He’s a great kid,” Abreu said through a team translator Monday. “I think that it’s a blessing. The White Sox did all that they could do for us to play together. I’m just enjoying the moment and every day with him. It’s special. It’s definitely a very special feeling.”

Abreu is often lauded by White Sox brass as the perfect example of what they want their young players to become. His incredible production makes that an easy comparison: He put up at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs in each of his first four major league seasons. But it’s what he does outside the lines that gets the highest praise. Rick Hahn, Rick Renteria and all of Abreu’s teammates constantly talk about his work ethic, his routine, his dedication to getting better and the way he goes about his business.

Moncada’s noticed. And he sees Abreu’s latest accomplishment — getting picked as an All-Star starter — as vindication that, yes, Abreu’s methods certainly work.

“Knowing him, knowing all the effort that he puts into his preparation, his work ethic, all that work that he puts into his preparation is paying off and he’s recognized with this election,” Moncada said. “That’s something that motivates you, something that lets you know that if you do things the right way, you’re going to get rewarded. For me, it’s a motivation, and I feel really honored to share this team with him.”

Moncada’s first full season in the bigs hasn’t gone smoothly. He’s had his hot stretches — including the last couple weeks; he’s slashing .356/.453/.644 since July 2 — but he’s also had long periods of struggles. Certain aspects, such as a propensity for striking out and making errors at second base, have been constants throughout the campaign.

Renteria refers to the mistakes and the poor results as teachable moments. Does he have a proxy teacher in Abreu?

“I tell him to enjoy the game,” Abreu said. “Enjoy the game, have fun, be a little more focused on the situation of the game. But I think the key is to have fun.”

Mostly, though, Abreu is convinced that Moncada will blossom into the kind of player White Sox fans hoped he would when he brought that top-prospect track record to the organization in the Chris Sale trade. The expectations are undoubtedly high, but Abreu’s been seeing Moncada meet them for some time. The two have known each other since the younger Moncada was 17 years old.

“I think that he was born with special abilities to play this sport,” Abreu said. “Before I met him, there were a lot of people talking about him in Cuba because of his abilities, the talent that he has. And when I met him, it was a very special moment. As soon as I met him, I realized, ‘Wow, what people say about him is true.’ His body type, his ability to play the game. He’s special.”

So will the All Star of today and the All Star of tomorrow one day share the All-Star stage?

“I would like to have that opportunity. Let’s pray to God to have that opportunity,” Abreu said. “If that happens, that would be really special for us.”