Predicting individual performance is an inexact science and a slippery slope, but take these factors into account when looking at the season that lies ahead for White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu:† Abreu is coming off a strong second half in 2016 after making a correction in his swing.
† He also finished strong in Cactus League games this spring, belting his third homer on the final day and taking the team lead in RBI.
† Physically, he feels better than ever, heading into the season eight pounds lighter than last spring.
† The same thing can be said mentally. He is in a much better place, with that dramatic testimony in federal court earlier this month behind him, than he has been since coming to the United States from Cuba in November 2013.
“Obviously, there were a lot of things going on here in the recent past for him,’’ manager Rick Renteria said. “Hopefully, those are behind him, and he can concentrate on playing baseball. He’s been tremendously focused this spring. And he’s working hard.’’
Signed to a six-year, $68 million deal, the biggest in Sox history, Abreu made that investment look sound when he batted .317 with an American League-high .581 slugging percentage, 36 home runs and 107 RBI. He was the 2014 AL Rookie of the Year and finished fourth in AL Most Valuable Player voting.
The numbers declined in the next two seasons, but only marginally (.293, 25 homers, 100 RBI in 2016). And there is that strong second half (.319/.384/.514 slash line, 14 homers after the All-Star break) to hang his hat on, which allowed him to become the first Sox player to boast three consecutive seasons of 30-plus doubles, 25-plus homers and 100-plus RBI to start his career.
Abreu, Albert Pujols and Joe DiMaggio are the only players to have 25 homers, 100 RBI and 175 hits in their first three seasons. Having played professionally in Cuba puts an asterisk on Abreu’s feat, but still.
What matters now is that Abreu, in his prime at 30, is in a good place as his fourth Opening Day (Monday, 3:10 p.m., CSN) approaches.
“I feel good,’’ Abreu said. “I feel like my offense is in the same spot it was at the end of [last] season.’’
In fact, Abreu feels better than ever. Those close to him say he’s in his best place mentally since he came to the Sox.
“I didn’t come to camp as early as I usually do, but I worked hard at my house, did all my preparation, and I feel really good,’’ he said.
During the offseason, Abreu focused in his workouts on getting lighter, and he said he resisted temptations such as chocolate and Coke, a practice he convinced family members to buy into, as well.
At 247 pounds — Abreu said he left camp at 255 last year — “I would say I’m in the best shape of the four years I’ve been here,’’ he said. “I feel really, really good.’’
With an appearance in federal court to testify in the Cuban player smuggling trial against a former agent and trainer four weeks ago behind him, Abreu said his mind is now clear to focus on baseball. The trainer, Julio Estrada, was best man at Abreu’s wedding.
Among the revelations during the trial was the duress Abreu functioned under during the turbulent and sometimes dangerous process of getting from Cuba to the United States. Abreu testified that he ate part of his passport on a flight to Miami in 2013 to cover up illegal travel.
Now, much of the baggage he carried during his first three seasons is no longer strapped to his back.
“The troubles were there,’’ Abreu said.
“But now they are in the past and I feel good, 100 percent focused on the game. My mind can be perfectly clear.’’
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