GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A connection existed between White Sox third-base coach Joe McEwing and feisty new leadoff man Adam Eaton well before they even joined forces in Chicago for the 2014 season.
The always upbeat McEwing managed the Mesa Solar Sox as part of the 2011 Arizona Fall League, while Eaton, as a part of the Diamondbacks organization at the time, played for the Salt River Rafters.
McEwing watched Eaton in action and then delivered a personal message to the young man.
"I remember telling him after the game, 'Don't ever change the way you play the game,'" said McEwing of Eaton. "He went about it the right way, ran every ball out.
"He definitely is a guy who changes the game. He's in the box and you make a defense of what you can do. You have to bring infielders in and he can run, hit for power. Defensively, strong throwing arm."
Eaton was not the only top prospect McEwing witnessed that particular October and November. Gerrit Cole, Junior Lake, Andrew Cashner, Brian Dozier, Aaron Hicks, Robbie Grossman and Jake Petricka all were part of McEwing's Mesa squad alone.
Managing a team that had players from the Cubs, Orioles, Pirates, White Sox and Twins became an interesting experience for McEwing, who managed from 2009-11 in the White Sox system, and has aspirations to do the same at the big league level someday. Interesting in a good way, of course.
"It was a great experience to see how five different organizations go about their business and learn from every single one of them," McEwing said. "How they prepare on the field and off the field. It was definitely a great learning experience to have five different organizations combined as one team.
"Everything was all laid out from the beginning. They kind of gave us feedback on what they wanted from each individual and what they were working on and where they wanted them to get to. It was nice dealing with other farm directors and pitching coordinators and hitting coordinators just to learn bits and pieces from every single one of them."
Each organization designates their priority guy in the AFL who has to play four out of the seven days a week, so it becomes tough for a manager such as McEwing to juggle the roster to get those four days. That was one of the challenges from an overall positive experience of games played in front of scouts, executives and the hardcore AFL fans.
Count White Sox outfielder Jared Mitchell as another Arizona Fall League supporter. He bounced back from a miserable 2013 Minor League season by hitting .304 with five homers and 11 RBIs, to go with 14 walks, over 20 games for the Glendale Desert Dogs.
Mitchell even swiped a team-high six bases in reaping the full benefits of this latest AFL stint.
"One, you go and play against great competition. Two, I just think it's a chance to keep playing at the end of the year," said Mitchell of the AFL. "Build up some things you did right, correct some things you might have done wrong.
"That's instead of going home in the offseason and not really doing anything. It's a way to keep playing, and there are a ton of people that will see what it is you are doing."