GLENDALE, Ariz. — On his second day in camp and first with the media, White Sox slugger Jose Abreu sported a full, scruffy beard and slightly longer hair while declaring himself, at 6-2 and 244 pounds, a potential stolen-base threat.
Was a mid-career crisis of a 31-year-old baseball star setting in? Was there a Lamborghini with an “Abreu 30/30” vanity license plate parked in the players’ lot?
Hardly. Abreu, who improved his lacking defense at first base while leading the American League in total bases in 2017, said he simply wants to be a better all-around player.
Manager Rick Renteria likes hearing that, but he had to smile and suppress a chuckle Sunday at the notion of Abreu, who runs hard and does move well for a big man, getting the green light.
“They’re all going to continue to improve their baserunning skills, and if that happens to be one of the outcomes, him being able to take a base, that would be awesome,’’ Renteria said, choosing his words with care. “But I’m actually more concerned about him making sure he gets himself ready to swing the bat and catch the ball at first.’’
And the beard, well, chairman Jerry Reinsdorf has always frowned on all things shaggy, so Renteria said Abreu would have to “clean it up a little.” Abreu, through a translator, said he “hopes the organization is good with it,’’ but it seems he can have a beard as long as it’s “neat.”
In any event, Abreu enters his fifth camp in good spirits, joking with teammates and Renteria on the field and working seriously with 21-year-old fellow Cuban Luis Robert in the batting cages.
Abreu’s role as a team leader was never more evident.
“I’m happy,’’ Abreu said. “I’m happy with my life. At the same time, I always want to get better. This year, I’m going to try to steal more bases. I will at least try. Also, to learn a bit of English.’’
Asked later to follow up on stealing, Abreu said he would ask Renteria for the green light.
“Because I think I can do it,’’ he said. “I really believe I can, and I like the challenge myself.’’
Abreu, who hit 36, 30, 25 and 33 home runs in his four major-league seasons, has stolen three, zero, zero and three bases with a 50 percent success rate. A half-serious question about the 30-30 club prompted a smile and a “Who knows?”
“I mean, if you fill your mind with positive things, maybe you can accomplish them,’’ Abreu said. “The mind of a human being works in a lot of different ways. Fill your mind with good things, and good things are going to happen.’’
Ten steals would be a more reasonable expectation, but there’s nothing to not like about Abreu’s exuberance and enthusiasm.
Taking prized Cuban rookie Yoan Moncada under his wing last season came naturally for Abreu, and he’ll do the same with Robert before Robert heads to minor-league camp at some point this spring.
“I do that from the bottom of my heart,’’ said Abreu, recalling help he received as a 16-year-old. “I’m not expecting anything from them. I just like to help people.’’
With two years left on his contract, with a year or two left in the Sox’ rebuilding phase and because of his age, Abreu’s long-range future on the South Side is uncertain. He has been adamant about wanting to finish his career with the Sox, but experience also has taught him the realities of baseball’s business side.
“I’m very happy with life,’’ Abreu said. “I’m really happy to have an opportunity to make my mom’s dream come true to see me play in the major leagues. I hope to play my whole career in the majors with the White Sox, but I can’t control that.’’
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