GLENDALE, Ariz. – Jose Abreu hit seven home runs during the second half after hitting 29 in the first half last season, and until he connected on a 3-0 pitch from the Rockies’ Jairo Diaz in the fifth inning of the White Sox’ 7-6 Cactus League loss Tuesday, he had gone all of spring training without one. That might be something to keep in mind if you’re betting an over/under on the White Sox slugger’s long ball production in 2015.
Now, if Abreu’s overall production was sagging, there might be cause for concern. He’s hitting .459 this spring, and more importantly, his on-base percentage during the second half last year improved by more than 100 points to .435. Manager Robin Ventura said before Tuesday’s game it would be nice to see Abreu launch one before the end of camp, if for no other reason than to steer the attention and unnecessary angst away.
“For him he’s so focused on the approach right now of getting that thing right,’’ Ventura said. “When you leave here you want to have [at least one homer in your pocket but] the approach part trumps hitting homers.’’
Whatever the expectation in 2015 for the Cuban slugger who led all of baseball in slugging percentage his first year in the majors, there’s a decent chance he won’t top 36 homers his sophomore year.
“He’s more of a hitter than he is a home run hitter, so it’s possible,’’ hitting coach Todd Steverson said. “Thirty-six is a pretty good number these days.‘’
Steverson is sure, though, that Abreu will “hit and be as valuable a hitter even if he does decrease in homers.’’
Abreu always shrugged off his homer “droughts” last year, like the week-long stretch to start the season and his two-homer August. He’s doing now what he always does at the plate.
“Right now there isn’t anything different,’’ he said through a translator. “I’m going to home plate with the same approach that I do when the season is on.’’
Steverson was impressed that Abreu always “knew when he wasn’t right and adjusting to that” and having a plan at the plate depending on the pitcher and situation.
“You’d think he was matching up well with a guy to [go deep] and he’d shoot one into right field,’’ Steverson said.
“His hands are phenomenal. He works on them, man. He has a great path to the baseball.
“I know coming in that first year, I saw the scouting reports and listened to the scouts who said, ‘Oh he has a hole inside, tough time getting to inside pitches.’ I don’t see it. I truly don’t. If anyone makes a good inside pitch on any hitter things won’t turn out well. But they’ve tried coming in on him, and he’ll shoot the ball wherever. He covers the plate as well as anyone I’ve seen in a long time.’’
Steverson said Abreu just wants to use the whole field right now.
“Home runs aren’t on his mind right now – they really aren’t on his mind during the season,’’ Steverson said. “But he’ll take his whacks when necessary. If he gets ahead in the count you may see him get more aggressive than he is typically. Right now he’s working on barrel accuracy which is fine with me.’’
Melky Cabrera, whose locker is next to Abreu’s, is most impressed by Abreu’s hand speed and how he stays inside the ball.
“It’s very impressive,” Cabrera said. “He’s a great hitter.
“If he’s not hitting homers it’s not a point of concern because we are preparing for the season. Right now it’s just about being ready for the season.’’
Even before Abreu went way deep Tuesday, no one was losing sleep over Abreu.
“Abreu didn’t have a homer? I didn’t know that,’’ Tuesday starter John Danks said. “I don’t worry about Abreu.’’