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Tuesday, February 11, 2014
Countdown to Camp: Breakout player

By Doug Padilla

Eaton
The White Sox are counting on Adam Eaton to elevate their on-base percentage this season.
With Chicago White Sox spring training set to begin Feb. 15 when pitchers and catchers report in Glendale, Ariz., we’re taking an early look around the diamond.

Depending on how "breakout player" is defined, the White Sox could have candidates all over the roster.

If it means returning to past production levels then maybe Adam Dunn or Alexei Ramirez are the answer. Heck, even Paul Konerko can fit into that category.

If it's somebody reaching the peak potential that has been expected of them, then Tyler Flowers, Dayan Viciedo or even Gordon Beckham could be the winners in that area.

As for a more traditional definition of bursting onto the major league scene, there are still a number of young players who could fit the bill such as Adam Eaton, Avisail Garcia, Jose Abreu and Matt Davidson.

Garcia has already shown that he can make an impact at the major league level, while the recent success of Cuban players suggests that Abreu can perform at a high level. Davidson figures to get his chances this season, but a true breakthrough might be a bit too much to ask at this point.

Eaton appears to be the player best poised to have that breakthrough season since he is capable of wreaking havoc on multiple fronts.

If Eaton can set the tone for getting the White Sox's on-base percentage to respectable levels, then he would have served his purpose right there. But he can also give the White Sox a running element with his blazing speed, and he should only help with outfield defense a year after Alejandro De Aza struggled badly in that area.

Yet another of Eaton's defining characteristics is his all-out attitude, something missing on veteran White Sox teams with its station-to-station personnel. Eaton seems to recognize that at 5-foot-8, 185 pounds, he is going to have to get everything out of his ability in order to be a success.

"The people with the mentality like mine, it's always: 'If I'm on first base I'm going to score for my guy because I want him to get an RBI,'" Eaton said in January. "If there is a ball in foul ground down the left-field line, I want to tag up from third and score. I feel that you should pick up your teammate, that's what you need to do.

"I don't see playing the game any other way. I may be out of this game in five years because I'm playing so hard, but that's the only way I can play and the only demeanor I can bring to this team."

That mentality is why many thought he would be a serious National League Rookie of the Year candidate in 2013. Taking a big dent out of his rookie year, though, was a ligament sprain in his left elbow that ended up costing him the first three months of the season.

Eaton finished is abbreviated season with a .252 batting average, a .314 on-base percentage and just five stolen bases. His most impressive season came in 2012 at Triple-A Reno when he batted .381 with a .458 on-base percentage and 38 steals.

If Eaton ends up being more like the player in Reno rather than the one getting his feet wet in the major leagues last season, then he makes the White Sox less one dimensional and gives the team a player with true breakout potential.

OUTLOOK: Nobody expects Eaton to all of a sudden post minor league numbers in the major leagues, but if he can deliver an on-base percentage more in the mid-.300 range, the White Sox would be elated. In 2013, the White Sox had a team on-base percentage of.302 and a .321 OBP from their leadoff hitters. The Boston Red Sox led the American League in OBP last season at .349 and that tone was set at the top of the order as their leadoff hitters delivered an AL-best .348 OBP.

Individually, just 23 AL players had an OBP of .350 or better and none of them played for the White Sox. For a player with blazing speed, Eaton's five steals last season seem low, but indications are that it was more a product of the style of Arizona Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson, who is loathe to give up outs on the bases. Expect the White Sox to tap into Eaton's speed more than Arizona did.