On October 29, 2013, the Chicago White Sox acquired Jose Abreu via free agency. The 27-year-old first baseman signed a six-year, $68 million contract, which is the largest deal in White Sox history. Abreu will be joining fellow Cuban natives Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo on the 2014 roster.
The White Sox no doubt spent a lot of money in acquiring Abreu and so the expectation is for him to come in and produce immediately. He is also trying to replace one of the most beloved White Sox players in recent memory in Paul Konerko. From a fan’s perspective, there is a lot of pressure on Abreu to perform, early and often.
That being said, the White Sox have tempered expectations for Abreu, at least in the beginning. White Sox General Manager Rick Hahn went into detail when he said, “There’s going to be an adjustment period. There’s going to be him getting used to the daily grind of a major league season, the travel in the states and games almost every day for six-plus months.” It seems like the White Sox are preparing their fans for some ups and downs in terms of Abreu’s numbers for the first couple months of the season.
However, I don’t see the need for this. I expect Abreu to be the next breakout player in the MLB. Two years ago, Yoenis Cespedes broke onto the scene for the Oakland A’s. In the three years prior to coming to America, Cespedes batted .334, had an On-Base Percentage (OBP) of .421, and a slugging percentage of .629 in la Serie Nacional in Cuba. In his rookie season with the A’s, Cespedes became the surprise of the summer, batting .292, having an OBP of .356 and having a slugging percentage of .505.
Last year, the breakout star was Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Simply put, he left all of baseball in awe. In his two years in la Serie Nacional, Puig batted .316, had an OBP of .412 and his slugging percentage was .539. Last year with the Dodgers, Puig hit for an average of .319, had an OBP of .391 and a slugging percentage of .534. He came in and produced immediately.
Why can’t Jose Abreu make it three straight years where a Cuban hitter comes in and dominates the MLB? The numbers certainly suggest it could happen. In the past three years in that same Cuban league, la Serie Nacional, Abreu is in a different universe in terms of stat comparison with the other two breakout stars. Abreu hit for an average of .412, had an on base percentage of .562 and a slugging percentage of .872 in the years 2010-2012. Additionally, Abreu is 27 years old and in his prime, so he should be able to deal with the adversity that the MLB encompasses.
Despite Abreu’s superb numbers, there is hesitation from scouts. Some scouts are concerned about his bat speed. They also point out that he is not as athletic as Cespedes or Puig. The scouts believe he might fold under the pressure of the majors. Frankly, I believe scouts are hesitant with Abreu because of the fear of the unknown. Abreu has not played in America and therefore scouts have not had a chance to view him in person. They are limiting their expectations so that they won’t be disappointed.
I am not too concerned with how scouts have yet to label Abreu a “sure thing”. When Cespedes and Puig were coming into their rookie season, there were questions about their production as well. It comes with the territory of being an unknown international prospect. Those two prospects sure turned out just fine.
Abreu has exceptional power. That, in addition to the fact that he will be playing 81 games in U.S. Cellular Field, a renowned “hitter’s park,” makes this feel like the perfect storm. When the weather gets warm, balls seem to fly over the fence with great ease. It just might be a very interesting summer on the south side of Chicago. Get excited about seeing this talent up close; I know I am.