GLENDALE, Ariz. — Having Marcos Hernandez, his longtime hitting guru, around this spring was a bonus for Jose Abreu.
Abreu always has spoken well of White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson and assistant hitting coach Greg Sparks, but he’s not the only pitcher or hitter who leans on a private instructor or another voice in the organization. For Paul Konerko, it was Mike Gellinger. For Abreu, it’s Hernandez, who goes back to Abreu’s playing days in Cuba.
“Yes, absolutely,” Abreu said. “I had an idea about how to do things, but Marcos figured out how to put those ideas into practice. It clicked with me, and I was able to execute that plan.’’
Abreu has never been a dead-pull hitter, but he used the middle and opposite sides of the field a lot this spring. He hit four homers, including two to right field in one game against the Reds. Abreu doubled in a run in the Sox’ 7-1 exhibition victory Tuesday against the Diamondbacks.
“I’ve been using the same routine I began with in the offseason,” Abreu said, “and my approach is to keep my arms inside the ball to put the barrel on the ball and make solid contact. That was my goal and key here in spring training.”
Signed to a six-year, $68 million deal in October 2013, Abreu has been a study in steady power production, with home run/RBI totals of 36-107, 30-101, 25-100, 33-102 and 22-78, while posting a career .295/.353/.516 slash line.
The only thing preventing him from another 25/100-or-more season in 2018 were two freak setbacks, an emergency procedure for a testicular torsion, then an infection on his thigh from an ingrown hair follicle.
“Last year was tough, and for the organization it wasn’t good because I didn’t play all the games I usually play,” Abreu said. “This year I’m ready to carry this team again and do the things I know I can do.’’
Abreu, 32, can become a free agent after the season, and while a new deal or an extension doesn’t line up with the Sox’ plan to invest in a young core during their current rebuild, he is both a fan favorite and respected and loved by the Sox — front office and owner included.
“We all love ‘Pito,’ ” manager Rick Renteria said.
And Abreu says he loves the Sox and wants to remain one. What they do with him will be a storyline worth watching in 2019, especially as the July 31 trade deadline draws near.
None of the above affected Abreu this spring. He hit .323 with a .920 OPS and led the team with 18 RBI.
“Every year you come to spring training eager,” he said. “Last year was a tough one, but at the end of the day, you don’t have to prove it to anyone else.’’
Even in a down year for him — career lows in average (.265), on-base percentage (.325), homers (22) and RBI (78) — Abreu won the Silver Slugger Award as the best-hitting first baseman in the American League and made his second All-Star team, honors earned by his reputation and past production as much as anything. Among AL players since his first season, Abreu ranks second in extra-base hits (339) and is third in doubles (180), total bases (1,502) and RBI (488).
And this year, it won’t hurt having Eloy Jimenez batting somewhere near him for protection.
“The lineup is going to be way better,” Abreu said. “The young guys have a year of experience. The new guys, [Yonder] Alonso, Eloy, we have a lot of talent. We’re ready for a good season. It’s going to be a fun season.”