Chicago White Sox's Adam Eaton bats against the Texas Rangers in a spring exhibition baseball game Tuesday, March 11, 2014, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan) ORG XMIT: AZMD
Updated: April 22, 2014 6:35AM
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Adam Eaton has a lot on his plate for a 25-year-old rookie.
He’s fitting into a new clubhouse and onto a new team with not one but two important roles — leadoff hitter and center fielder.
On the defensive side, he’ll be stationed in the middle of the White Sox’ outfield, in charge of guys who have been around longer than he has. Eaton is comfortable with that.
“I put it like being in the Army or Air Force — you can be a first or second lieutenant and be 24 or 25,’’ Eaton said. “You’re in that position for a reason, and you feel weird being the young guy in that position, but it’s like, ‘Hey, this is how it’s going to be,’ and we need to work together if we want to win.’’
At the top of the lineup in Cactus League games, Eaton has been pretty much everything the Sox hoped for. He’s batting .343 with a .439 on-base percentage, four doubles and an inside-the-park home run. He has drawn four walks and stolen a couple of bases.
“I’m kind of excited to see a guy who likes being a true leadoff hitter,’’ team captain Paul Konerko said. “We haven’t always had that here.’’
Acquired from the Diamondbacks during the winter meetings in a three-way trade that sent left-hander Hector Santiago to the Angels, Eaton also takes his defense seriously, devoting a good portion of spring training to studying Sox pitchers so he can best position himself in center depending on game situations and pitchers’ tendencies.
“For example, how Chris Sale attacks hitters in certain counts,’’ Eaton said. “Say it’s 0-2 on a righty, and I know he likes to come inside. I don’t have to know that he’s coming in when the catcher puts his finger down. I’m going to move accordingly because this is how he’s going to pitch him, and I can move my outfielders before the catcher puts his finger down because I know where he’s going to throw it.
“Or maybe he’s not hitting his spots one day, it’s a 3-1 count and usually I play him here, but he’s throwing like this today, so I do it this way. Being a center fielder, you’re in charge of two other guys. You need to take charge, know how your pitcher will attack certain hitters in different situations. And it changes.’’
Eaton said he’s trying to learn something every day, not only about how his teammates play but who they are. It’s about “getting into the same tune” as everyone else.
General manager Rick Hahn called Eaton a “dirtbag” the day he acquired him, citing the grinding style that can have an energizing effect. It’s a good look for a leadoff hitter.
“It’s stirring the drink, getting things going,’’ Eaton said. “When a guy can get on, or when the lineup turns over, you can get things going in the right direction, it definitely can help.’’
Let’s just say Eaton can be a straw that stirs an energy drink.
“Everyone has their own way of doing things; everyone has their own energy,’’ Eaton said, nodding and smiling at teammate Jeff Keppinger, who is much more subdued.
Not that Eaton bounces around the clubhouse stirring it up. Seated next to Konerko, he has been fairly subdued indoors, and part of that might be a rookie knowing his place. Energy has more use on the field.
Eaton is sure there is value to a large supply of juice.
“Absolutely,’’ he said. “The season is really long. There are times when you need a little pep in your step, ‘let’s get it going.’ The season is a grind and to bring that energy really helps.’’
NOTE: The Sox had their first and only off day of camp Thursday. Chris Sale threw 100 pitches in seven innings in a simulated game against minor-leaguers. Nate Jones threw 40 pitches over two innings.