By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — There will almost certainly be no team hardware for the White Sox to celebrate in 2016. As the dog days of the summer drag through for clubs out of contention, the individual accomplishments are all that is left to ponder.READ MORE: Police Board Orders Firing Of CPD Officer Patrick Kelly, Accused Of Shooting Friend In Head While Off-Duty And Lying About It
One player who has a strong case for an award is right fielder Adam Eaton, who’s had a resurgence in his defensive game this season that has taken him to a new level of excellence. With the signing of center fielder Austin Jackson last offseason, Eaton moved to right field after previously playing center.
The White Sox’s 23-10 start was mostly due to really good pitching fortified by air-tight defense. Jackson was outstanding in center field before having surgery on his left knee to repair a torn meniscus in June. He hasn’t returned to the field since that time. Eaton has played some center field in Jackson’s absence but still has been the team’s primary right fielder.
Eaton has flashed his defensive prowess via the eye test and advanced metrics department. He has quality range and and has showcased his arm often, as he leads all of baseball with 17 outfield assists. His 17.1 defensive WAR number ranks fourth overall in baseball at any position. Among outfielders, Eaton is second in defensive WAR to only Blue Jays center fielder Kevin Pillar.
“It’s nice to be recognized by people for what you accomplish,” Eaton said. “With so many great players in this game, it’s nice to be singled out for something special you do. I take a lot of pride in being looked at as a good defender. At the same time, it’s a part of your job to give effort every day and help your team win.”
Eaton had shoulder surgery last October to repair an injury that bothered him for much of the second half of the 2015 season. That’s helped him improve defensively this season, and Eaton has also gotten better tracking the baseball off the bat. His routes of improved, and he’s stayed healthier in part because he’s been less adventurous in his wall climbing and crashing into walls this season.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Storms Headed Our Way After Midnight; Damaging Winds And Heavy Rain Possible
“Being in right field, he has just gotten better jumps this season,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “He has just seemed fearless but more under control in right field. He has had better throws to home plate with less movement. The biggest thing for me is he gets really good jumps on balls (in right field).”
The maturity of Eaton’s game has also been a part of the Gold Glove-caliber defense he has played.
“Now, he doesn’t run into the wall if the ball is 20 feet into the stands,” Ventura said. “He is better a identifying balls he has a shot at instead of going all out at balls you can’t get to.”
Eaton acknowledged he’s matured as well.
“Being healthy has been a key to it,” Eaton said. “Credit goes to (outfield coach) Daryl Boston. Last year I had a lot of traveling violations (taking too many steps to throw the ball) because my arm, how slow the process was to get it up. The pain involved in throwing was rough. A healthy arm gives me more confidence.
“Daryl has worked hard with me on efficient movements. Our defensive drills and the way (bench coach Rick Renteria) set things up really got us going. He had some great fundamental ideas that we worked on. My teammates are a part of the success we have had on relays and targets. You don’t do it alone.”MORE NEWS: Bears Proposed Moving From Chicago, Possibly To Gary, In 1995 -- Leading To Huge Fight Between Mayor Richard M. Daley And Team Brass
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.