2/18/2014 3:50 P.M. ET
Abreu already displaying powerful bat, work ethic
Cuban first baseman in camp early to get jump start on rookie season
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The man dubbed "oso" or "Yogi" by some of his White Sox teammates for his bear-like physical stature is coming out of hibernation.
Jose Abreu, whose nickname was announced by center fielder Adam Eaton on Tuesday morning, held court with the media for the first time during his first Spring Training at Camelback Ranch. But the reality of his situation is that the 6-foot-3, 255-pound first baseman hasn't been dormant since agreeing to terms with the White Sox on a six-year, $68 million deal.
Abreu arrived in Arizona from his Florida home during the first week of February, approximately 2 1/2 weeks before pitchers and catchers report on Thursday, to get situated and ready for Spring Training. His work ethic has been unparalleled, with Gordon Beckham joking that the big man hit for about four hours on Monday.
Standing even with his intense preparation is Abreu's consistent approach and plan for hitting. It's that thought process helping Abreu take the ball consistently to right-center that impresses Robin Ventura as much as the monstrous home run the right-handed slugger launched during batting practice on Tuesday against his manager.
"Right now, I'm thinking of preparing for the 28th, when the games start," said Abreu through White Sox coach and translator Lino Diaz. "I'm working on little things, being able to hit the ball the other way, the way I pull my hands through. I'm not concerned with hitting home runs at all. It's a process."
"It's professional. That's another one of those things we liked about him, numbers-wise and talent," said Ventura. "He has more of a professional approach for being a big guy, hitting the ball the other way, more aware of his pitch. That's stuff you like to see, the way they work, they go about it. He knows how to practice."
That practice isn't just limited to offense, where Abreu is being counted on for the greatest impact by the White Sox. According to Eaton, Abreu's quiet passion shows through in pretty much everything he has been doing.
If he doesn't do something right, Abreu goes after it again and again and learns from it.
"He really works his tail off," Eaton said.
"Expectations for me are clear, but I have to prepare," Abreu said. "That's all I control for now is preparation. That's what I'm doing right now."
Excitement builds among White Sox fans with every move Abreu makes, as they look forward to his first live BP session, his first Cactus League contest and then his Major League debut on March 31 at home against the Twins. Ventura wouldn't really commit when asked Tuesday about Abreu hitting cleanup or getting at least 500 at-bats, but those have to be two of the base goals for the young man from Cuba.
Fan and media attention serves as a source of motivation, according to Abreu. Ventura believes that his first baseman can handle such pressure, the sort of early and frequent attention that comes around great hitters who possess that special aura.
"You see that with guys even from other teams," said Ventura. "You would try to peak over at Edgar Martinez in the cage to see what he was doing. When you play the Yankees, you get in the cage when Don Mattingly is in there to see what he's doing and why. Hopefully, he has that. His practice habits and the things that he does, he has the potential to do that.
"For him, you let him just handle it. I think he's mature enough and good enough. That's part of coming here and that's the challenge for him of leaving a another country and getting the contract he got to go play. That's a fun challenge to have, and I think he has the personality and makeup to handle it just fine."
Although he has only talked by phone briefly to fellow Cuban success stories Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig, Abreu hopes to chat with both about their big league adjustment process during the course of Cactus League action. Abreu looks at their accomplishments more as another source of inspiration and not something he must match.
Ultimately, Abreu's consistent overall approach will help carry him through that adjustment period and through the expected slump or two in what the White Sox hope is a bear of a rookie season.
"I've seen quite a few guys that have had a professional approach. With him being as big as he is, it's stuff that's nice to see," Ventura said. "I know Frank [Thomas is] a Hall of Famer, but Frank was very good at moving it around and having a plan, even when he was in the cage.
"By no means am I saying he's in there with Frank. But you're looking at a guy that knows what he's doing and has a plan when he goes in there, instead of just swinging as hard as he can and hopefully he hits it."