GLENDALE, Ariz. — A dynamic center fielder throughout his career, Austin Jackson will continue to play his best position with the White Sox.
White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said Sunday night that Jackson, who signed a one-year deal for $5 million earlier in the day, would mainly play in center field when he’s in the lineup. Jackson has produced 49 Defensive Runs Saved in six seasons in center and has a career Ultimate Zone Rating of 11.8 there, according to fangraphs.com. Hahn also indicated that current center fielder Adam Eaton is open to moving around while still spending some time in center himself.
“Most of, if not all of, Austin’s time will come in center,” Hahn said. “Obviously, a high quality defensive player out there and a lot of his value comes from having him in that spot. As I talked about with Adam Eaton at the end of last season and a couple times over the offseason and once again this afternoon, we also view Adam as a very fine defensive center fielder. He was one of the three finalists for the Gold Glove in 2014 out there and we think we’re stronger certainly from a defensive standpoint when we have both Adam and Austin out there in that same outfield. Adam’s expressed a willingness to do whatever we feel makes the most sense on a given day to win a ballgame whether that’s playing center field for Adam or DHing or being on one of the corners.”
[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]
The White Sox outfield would be considerably better than it was in 2015 with Jackson in center and Eaton on one of the corners. Last season, the White Sox ranked 26th among 30 teams in DRS with minus-22 and 29th in UZR with minus-26.8.
Jackson is expected to report to the club on Monday morning. Hahn thinks Jackson, 29, could be ready for game action in 7-10 days.
The signing gives the White Sox more depth at a position in which it was sorely needed and further safeguards against injuries. It also offers manager Robin Ventura more lineup flexibility and a chance to play the best matchups if either Avisail Garcia or Adam LaRoche doesn’t produce as hoped. Last month, Ventura said he wanted LaRoche to earn playing time with a good showing this spring.
“Nothing has been promised to anybody,” Hahn said. “Obviously, as you’ve heard us say time and again, you’ve heard from Robin, when it comes to making out the lineup, Robin’s mission simply is to put the best team out there on any given night that’s going to put us in the best position to win.
“He need not worry about contracts or pedigree or a player’s history with us. It’s about getting the right guys in the right position to win that night’s ballgame.”
Jackson also gives the White Sox a surefire answer if Eaton’s throwing shoulder isn’t quite ready. But Hahn became the latest member of the club to downplay concerns, noting that Eaton continues to progress. Last week, Eaton said he’s 100 percent certain he’ll be ready for Opening Day on April 4. While he hasn’t yet played in the field, Eaton has appeared in three of the team’s four games so far.