One month into Derek Jeter’s final season and baseball is out of the gates stronger than ever. Commissioner Bud Selig just stated the game’s likeability is at the highest it has ever been during his tenure. Fans are pouring into stadiums and teams are playing close and competitive games. The Milwaukee Brewers are baseball’s biggest surprise leading with a Major League-best 21-11 record. However, the best the say-good story is the arrival of first baseman Jose Abreu.
Considered by many to be a gamble, Abreu signed a six year, $68 million deal with the Chicago White Sox despite not playing in the Majors. The raw talent took over for the retiring Paul Konerko and has exploded on the scene. Drawing comparisons to White Sox legend Frank Thomas, Abreu leads all players with 12 homers and 34 RBIs. He became just the second player (Yasiel Puig was the first) in baseball history to win his league’s overall and rookie player of the month honors in his first month. The slugger is also the leader in total bases (71) and extra-base hits (19), and fifth with a .617 slugging percentage. He had three multi-homer games in April.
The move is easily the best of the offseason and marks the White Sox’s ascension in the standings. The South Siders were expected to be rebuilding for the future but Abreu’s presence paves way for a different plan. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez is off to a fast start almost totaling the six homers he hit all of last season. Dayan Viciedo and Adam Dunn each are on pace for 90 RBI years. Jose Quintana (4.00 ERA) and John Danks (5.00) need to make improvements. If All-Star southpaw pitcher Chris Sale can stay healthy (he is currently on the DL with shoulder inflammation), the White Sox can challenge the Tigers in the AL Central.
This is, of course, a big if. Abreu has already endeared himself to South Side fans but he must continue to put up big numbers for the White Sox to remain in the hunt. Any slump and the season is lost in smoke. The biggest challenge is staying motivated during the long summer games of June through August. Manager Robin Ventura has to give his players adequate rest while keeping them fresh throughout the long run. He has adjusted well to the culture and lifestyle but opposing coaches will soon make adjustments as Abreu is prone to strikeouts. He has a tendency to chase sliders outside the zone and pitchers will try to exploit that. If he stays consistent for the duration of the year, Abreu could be the first rookie MVP since Ichiro Suzuki in 2001.
Hopefully he can keep to his stride. Abreu has a long way to go to be mentioned in the names of Thomas or Konerko, but he has the right mindset and proper mentor in Ventura to teach him the ropes. For the moment, congrats with this great achievement!