All eyes were on Jose Abreu Friday afternoon, as the Cuban slugger made his highly anticipated White Sox debut after signing a four-year, $68 million contract during the offseason.
Although the 27-year-old went hitless in two at-bats and was replaced in the bottom of the fourth inning, he certainly didn’t disappoint in his first taste of stateside baseball, lining to left field in his first at-bat and seeing 11 total pitches on the day.
Granted two at-bats is a ridiculously small sample on which to evaluate a player, but Abreu showed a defined approach in both trips to the plate on Friday. Suffice it to say it was a pleasant surprise for onlookers expecting a raw, free-swinger cut from the same mold as Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes.
Here’s what we learned about Cuban superstar Jose Abreu in his spring debut.
He isn't afraid to work the count
Though Abreu is known for his vicious swings and prodigious power, the truth of the matter is that he’s more disciplined than given credit for, with a consistent approach and strong feel for the strike zone. Earlier this spring, White Sox manager Robin Ventura raved about his new first baseman’s approach and work ethic, via Doug Padilla of ESPNChicago.com:
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. He's played before, so you know he knows how to do that.
You're watching him practice, and he's not worried about trying to hit every ball over the fence. He's moving it around the field and hitting it on the barrel. Even fielding stuff, you're watching him do things for a reason. He has a way to go about it that's very professional.
Abreu’s mature approach was on display Friday against the Dodgers, as he saw a total of 11 pitches between his two at-bats. The right-handed batter quickly worked a 2-1 count by taking the first three pitches he saw from starter Hyun-Jin Ryu, and he later pushed the count full with another take on 2-2 before roping a line-out to left field.
After facing Ryu in his first at-bat, Abreu drew a more challenging arm his next time up in Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen. However, the slugger showed the same plate discipline against the right-hander; he appeared to see the ball well out of Jansen’s hand and tracked it deep into the zone.
Specifically, Abreu had a pair of impressive takes during the at-bat, both of which came after he swung through the first pitch. Jansen tried to make Abreu expand his zone with an elevated, 0-1 fastball, but the 27-year-old was able to lay off and even the count. Jansen’s next pitch was his trademark cutter just off the outside corner, which looked like a strike until it sliced off the plate.
Amazingly, Abreu was able to spit on the offering, tracking it all the way to the catcher’s glove off the outside corner. He could have probably put the barrel on the ball—Abreu hardly appeared tempted by the offering, which suggests he was looking for something on the inner half. Though he ended up grounding out to second base on a 2-2 pitch to end the at-bat, the patience he showed along the way was very, very impressive.
He doesn't get cheated
Listed at 6’3”, 255 pounds, Abreu is an enormous human being with enormous power. The 27-year-old posted a .621 slugging percentage with 184 home runs in 2,686 plate appearances during his 10-year career in Cuba’s Serie Nacional, and that doesn’t include his strong track record in international tournaments.
Abreu’s first swing as a member of the White Sox was certainly memorable, albeit for the wrong reasons. After taking the first three pitches against Ryu, the big man finally cut it loose on a 2-1 changeup.
However, because he was sitting on a fastball, Abreu was way out in front of the pitch before losing grip of his bat and launching it toward the third-base dugout. Luckily, he would make up for the ugly hack later in the at-bat.
After working the count full, Abreu put a nice swing on a Ryu slider that caught too much of the plate, lacing it on a line to Chone Figgins in left field, who ultimately ran it down just before the warning track.
As you can see, Abreu was able to get the barrel on the ball. However, his swing was still a bit early against the slider, and it caused him to work around the ball on a flatter plane rather than staying inside so as to generate extension. Still, the fact that Abreu managed to hit a rocket to the track is a testament to his sheer strength.
Abreu took another monster hack in his second at-bat of the game, but once again he came up empty, this time swinging through a first-pitch cutter against Jansen. He ultimately worked the count back to 2-2 before grounding out to second base with a protective swing.
*All screenshots courtesy of MLB Advanced Media, MLB.com.