Jose Abreu good enough to get from Point A to Point B in 2015
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GLENDALE, Ariz. – It feels like one of those “is water wet’’ questions: Does Jose Abreu have what it takes to match the success he had in his rookie season for the White Sox?
Short answer: Well, duh.
Long answer: See short answer.
Not to be flippant, but the man is put together so well mentally and physically that it would be surprising if he went through a steep drop-off in 2015. Everybody understands that, at 27 last season, the Cuban emigrant was a rookie in name only. But what stood out to those around him was how unfazed he was by his first taste of major-league baseball.
He won the American League Rookie of the Year award with a .317 average, 36 home runs and 107 runs batted in. You know, just like that. As if it were a shrug. It shouldn’t look so easy.
Ask the Sox what points to continued high production from Abreu, and they talk about more than one thing, like engineers discussing an airplane’s safety redundancy systems. You start with the lower body. He’s thick. Not a weightlifter’s thick. Just thick. Calves the size of other people’s thighs. Thighs the size of rolled-up carpets. Start with those legs, where he generates so much power. You could probably end there in trying to understand his success, but you’d be missing a lot.
“He’s a tireless worker,’’ Sox general manager Rick Hahn said Monday. “He wants information. He wants to do everything in his power for the team to win. I sat down with him right before we agreed to terms with Adam LaRoche. I wanted to talk with him directly about why we were bringing in arguably another plus-defensive first baseman and how it fits and why I thought it made us better.
“Forty seconds into the conversation, he said, ‘No, no, no, I get it. It makes us better. Now, what are we going to do about the pitching?’ He wants to win, and he wants to do everything in his power to win. He checks his ego at the door. It’s a special kind of makeup. It really is.’’
That Abreu was good immediately and stayed good in 2014 was an eye-opener. Opponents know rookies are slaves to initial success, so they make adjustments and watch those rookies curl into the fetal position at the plate. It didn’t work against Abreu. His power numbers dropped off as the season went on, but he hit .374 and .376 in July and August, respectively.
“He was very successful at making adjustments in his first year,’’ catcher Tyler Flowers said. “That’s difficult for the rest of us, not just rookies. That’s what makes the elite hitters elite, their ability to not dwell on anything negative, make the necessary adjustments to continue to have success. Those are the ones who do it more consistently than the rest of the league, and that’s why they lead the league.’’
LaRoche’s arrival means the Sox will be able to put Abreu at designated hitter whenever they want to give his legs a rest. He played 109 games at first base last season. The idea is for him to be fresher if the Sox are playing in October.
They’d love to have an improved Abreu in 2015, but every team in the league would take the 2014 version.
“I’m working just to be better in all aspects of the game,’’ he said through an interpreter. “I’m not really thinking about one specific thing to be better (at). I want to be good all-around and try to be the best person possible I can be, as a person and a player.’’
Flowers said there are certain players who you immediately know will be good. Mike Trout was going to be good. So was Abreu. It’s fair to say Abreu had more issues on his plate than most rookies when he arrived in the big leagues.
“It’s hard for me to overstate how impressed we were with his transition, just given how much was involved in terms of leaving his family behind, coming to a new country, playing a longer schedule, playing against competition that he wasn’t familiar with,’’ Hahn said. “That was a tremendous amount to ask of any individual, especially playing at the highest level of competition. To do what he did is a remarkable accomplishment.’’
Can Abreu do it again? Let’s answer the question with a question: Would you bet against him? I wouldn’t.