Eaton aims to be ignition key that starts Sox engine

Eaton aims to be ignition key that starts Sox engine

KANSAS CITY -- Adam Eaton had a primary goal in mind upon agreeing to terms with the White Sox on a five-year, $23.5 million deal that also contains club options at $9.5 million in 2020 and $10.5 million in '21, with a $1.5 million buyout.

"I want to be better than my contract. I really do," said the 26-year-old, who hit .300 with a .362 on-base percentage in 2014, to go with 10 triples and 15 stolen bases. "That's something I worked on as soon as I signed it."

In order for Eaton to accomplish this goal, the high-energy left-handed hitter needs to first stay healthy throughout the 2015 campaign and then continue serving as one of the game's top igniting forces from the leadoff spot in the White Sox lineup. Eaton finished 1-for-4 in Monday's 10-1 Opening Day loss to the Royals at Kauffman Stadium, but it was a fairly forgettable day for all involved from Chicago.

Any sort of offensive pop needs a catalyst to get it started, so enter Eaton -- much as Scott Podsednik sparked the World Series champion offense in 2005. But for the White Sox to become the playoff-caliber team they envision, frequent contributions will have to come following the man at the top.

"There's not one guy. I mean, I hope there's not one guy that on an everyday basis -- Jose Abreu, we can't lean on him too much," Eaton said. "We need other guys to step up: Avisail Garcia, Adam LaRoche, guys that bring it every day.

"But I would like to be thought of as some guy that can get on base and help the team win and score runs. That's my job. That's what I want to do. For us to be successful day in and day out, I need to do that consistently. With that being said, we need a very good, consistent team, one through nine."

General manager Rick Hahn's roster reshaping this past offseason gave the White Sox increased depth and athleticism. No longer is Eaton the one and only leadoff option, with J.B. Shuck and Micah Johnson fitting that mold. Johnson has the speed and that pesky approach to drive up opposing pitch counts, as shown by his 13-pitch battle in the third inning against Yordano Ventura on Monday.

That leadoff at-bat for Johnson came in his first big league plate appearance, and it included seven straight foul balls on fastballs ranging from 95-97 mph. Ultimately, though, Eaton drives the offense.

"It might be the most important spot," said Shuck of Eaton. "If he can get on, maybe steal a base and the two-hole gets him over to third base, you got a guy on third base with hopefully one out and one of the best hitters in the game coming up in Abreu. Then all of a sudden, they walk Abreu and you got LaRoche coming. [Eaton is] a great guy for that job."

"You see the game evolving back into small ball and guys being able to put the ball in play and be able to handle the bat a little bit better," Eaton said. "Hopefully we can start making that movement, start going in the right direction."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Merk's Works, and follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.