Eaton fills a number of needs

Adam Eaton gives the White Sox speed at the top of the lineup. Ralph Freso/Getty Images

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- For the first time since Juan Pierre departed after the 2011 season, the Chicago White Sox have a true leadoff hitter on the roster.

The acquisition of Adam Eaton from the Arizona Diamondbacks, though, has the potential to trump the Pierre tenure in a number of ways. While Pierre’s time with the White Sox was widely viewed as disappointing, Eaton already has a number of positives going for him.

First and foremost, the fact that Eaton is just 25 fits right into the team’s plan to go young. And by going “young” it also means affordability as Eaton’s salary remains under team control through 2015 and he can’t be a free agent until 2019.

While some might consider Eaton’s overall defensive package to rank average or slightly below, the White Sox have a different view.

“I have him as above average with the arm and his throwing ability,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “There’s been times where his routes, he’s had a problem on a couple of jumps. At the same time he’s got the speed to be able to make up for it for the most part.

“He’s a young player. He’s missed some time at the big league level due to the elbow injury, so he’s not a finished product entirely, but over the course of the next five years, we think he has a chance to be a real disruptive force in the top of the order.”

That elbow injury was a sprained ligament that forced Eaton to miss much of the first half last season, but it’s an injury that Hahn said wasn’t a concern moving forward.

Also, for as much speed as he possesses, Eaton stole a relatively low 38 bases in 2012 at Triple-A Reno, despite posting a huge on-base percentage of .456. In 277 plate appearances with the Diamondbacks this past season, he stole just five bases.

Much of that low total last season could be attributed to Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson, whose style is not exactly to be a gambler on the base paths.

“I know he has the ability to steal [a high] number of bases, and given the right situation, he’s able to steal a bag when you need it,” Hahn said. “He does have plus-speed and even plus-plus in some measures. It’s in part about the success rate as much as it is about how many attempts he’s making, so we know he has the ability to be that type of player.”

Speed and on-base percentage means the White Sox filled two needs with one move.

Another consideration when it comes to Eaton is his hard-nosed style of play. While Aaron Rowand is a solid comparison, most similarities are pointed toward former Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Lenny Dykstra. Eaton’s career numbers don’t show much power, but the Springfield, Ohio native has been known to go deep on occasion and should benefit from U.S. Cellular Field’s tighter dimensions.

“This is a dirtbag baseball player,” Hahn said. “This is a guy who has been described to me by someone with words I can't use. But we were looking to give us an edge that we were lacking a little bit in recent months. He's a real nice kid for us. He's one of the names at the top of our target list.”

It’s a style the White Sox could use after they went sleepwalking through the 2013 season.

“Energy is good to a point,” manager Robin Ventura said. “I think when you had the season we did it’s not as easy to keep that kind of edge. When the young guys all get in there and you see them in spring training, guys can feed off of that. It’s nice to have, definitely at the top of the lineup.”

The fact that Eaton bats from the left side is a nice little bonus.

“We were also a little right-handed heavy,” Ventura said. “It balances it out and you get a good baseball player out of it. You have to give up something good. That’s never easy because [Hector Santiago] was real good for us for a couple of years.”

Eaton entered last season ranked by Baseball America as the Diamondbacks’ third-best prospect, the best hitter for average in the system, the fastest baserunner and the best outfield arm.