Chicago White Sox slugger Jose Abreu has taken the baseball world by storm. The Player and Rookie of the month for April, Abreu has hit the ground running while playing in a new country against the most elite competition in the world.
Editorials have been written over the past few weeks praising the Sox for signing what could be the steal of the decade. General manager Rick Hahn and owner Jerry Reinsdorf have been patted on the back for landing a superstar, in this day of age of free agency, for a measly sum of 68 million dollars. Everybody is gushing over the Sox ability to pull this off. This admiration has not always been there though. Back in October when the deal was done, people that are now praising the decision, were some of its harshest critics.
When the White Sox signed the Cuban slugger this offseason the biggest concern regarded his transition to playing major league baseball. While the Cuban baseball league has produced Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes, it is still considered worse than the minor leagues in the states. Some people have even labeled it as similar competition as high school ball in America. Whatever people compare it to, baseball in Cuba is not at the same level as it is in major league baseball.
While the increase in talent that Abreu would face was a concern, his overall hitting ability was what was questioned the most. Scouts believed that Abreu would be similar to Sox slugger Adam Dunn in a sense that he would not be able to drive the ball to all fields. It was believed that a simple shift would take away an ample amount of potential hits for Abreu. Through the first month and a half of the season, that has not been the case.
Abreu has hit six of his first fifteen home runs this season the opposite way. In fact, 18 out of his 45 hits this season, or 40 percent, have been to the opposite field. His ability to show control in the batter’s box has played a huge part in his record setting month of April and his impressive May. Not only is Abreu showing production by hitting the long ball, he is getting on base with a sharply hit single to a rocket double that hits off the wall. Abreu’s 103 total bases is tops in the majors and harps on the point that Abreu is not a one dimensional hitter.
It goes without saying that infusing Abreu into the lineup has drastically changed the outlook of the Sox offensively. Whether one believes in the old baseball saying “hitting is contagious”, Abreu’s immediate impact has been in correlation with the success of others. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who is known to be a slow starter, is hitting .319 this season and almost has as many home runs (five) as he did all of last season (six). Catcher Tyler Flowers, who Sox fans had to hold their collective breaths whenever he was at the plate, is batting .313 with an OBP of .363.
While it is not completely clear whether or not Abreu’s success has a direct correlation to other’s at the plate, it is apparent that he has excited the once hopeless team, and their fan base. Last season a majority of the games, including most of the Sox’s 99 losses, featured a lackluster performance by the ball club. There was no energy and quite frankly no hope once the Sox found themselves on the wrong side of the score. This year, with a bat like Abreu in the lineup, any emotion of doubt is quickly wiped away.
Yesterday in Oakland the Sox were down by one in the latter innings after entering the game on a four game losing streak. The excitement the team built early on in the year was rapidly being wiped away. Abreu stepped to the plate with two runners on and roped a rocket over the left field fence to give the Sox a two run lead, and eventually a win. That is the most important element that Abreu brings to the Sox. Hitting 40 home runs and 100 runs batted in would be fantastic from a personal statistical standpoint, but would mean very little in the whole grand scheme of things if the team drops close to 100 games again this year. With Abreu in the lineup, the Sox believe that they are not out of any game, and that those dreaded losing streaks will not last forever.
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