Long since the days of Scott Podsednik have the White Sox had a leadoff man in their lineup as versatile and as energetic as Adam Eaton.
On March 20, the White Sox locked up their center fielder and top-of-the-lineup catalyst to a five-year, $23.5 million extension. White Sox general manager Rick Hahn just locked up a member of this invigorated franchise’s core to another team-friendly contract.
Eaton, 26, enjoyed a breakout 2014 campaign, batting .300 (ranked ninth in the AL) and kept an on-base percentage of .362 (ranked 12th in the AL) in 123 games. In his first season with the White Sox, Eaton walked more and struck out less than the league average for a leadoff hitter. And for you stat heads, Eaton produced 115 wRC+ (weighted runs created). That was more than Brett Gardner, Jose Reyes and 2014 All-Star Dee Gordon. The wRC+ statistic is an attempt to encompass a player’s total offensive value – his knack for creating runs – and Eaton, when healthy, proved to be one of the league’s better leadoff men.
He has the right philosophy for a leadoff man, too. Last season, Eaton took pitches and made contact at above-average rates, earning the label as a tough out for opposing pitchers. While his numbers last season were impressive, they were generally on par with his career averages so I don’t foresee any real regression in this part of Eaton’s game. That comes as fantastic news for Melky Cabrera, Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia, all of whom will be itching to drive in Eaton early and often.
In addition to his on-base prowess, Eaton is a smart baserunner who nabbed 15 steals last season, though it’s an area he took this off-season to improve on – he has four stolen bases in five attempts this spring.
Extending him to this sort of lengthy contract does make you hope now that Eaton earned some guaranteed big money, he’ll ease up on the gas pedal just a little bit. He’s a high-energy guy and he’s got all the grit in the world but his recklessness has come at the cost of some DL stints here and there. Nothing too serious in itself, but his playing style has hurt him – literally – in parts of his last two seasons in the bigs. He should know his tireless spirit is admirable and it makes us all like him that much more– but I like him even better when he’s on the field. He’s smart so he’ll figure that part out in due time, I’m sure. His Twitter game is top-notch, though, and I appreciate that.
Eaton’s extension is just another reason to applaud the direction White Sox baseball – hell, even Chicago baseball – is headed.
The White Sox gritty yet lovable little leadoff man is here to stay.