Jose Abreu can hit home runs. That much has been obvious from the moment he put on a big league uniform. But his talents, clearly, go well beyond the long ball.
Excitement has trailed the Cuban star since he inked a six-year, $68 million contract with the Chicago White Sox last fall. But his reputation, by and large, was that of a single-tool slugger.
Two-thirds of the way through his rookie MLB season, Abreu is shattering expectations.
After going 3-for-3 in Friday night's 10-8 win over the Minnesota Twins, Abreu owns a .310 batting average to go along with 31 home runs and 84 RBI. The latter two stats lead the American League, meaning Abreu is suddenly a Triple Crown threat.
He'd have to hike his average, but that's not beyond the realm of possibility considering he's currently on a 21-game hitting streak and has hit safely in 39 of his last 40 games, per MLB.com's Scott Merkin.
To their credit, the White Sox saw more than dingers when they signed Abreu.
"He's the only player that I've seen work out and then play in a game that I wanted to give a standing ovation to," Chicago Executive Vice President Ken Williams told Merkin in October 2013. "One of the things that we did not want to entertain was a guy who was just one dimensional. This guy is a hitter."
Unfortunately for the White Sox, and Abreu, his talents are being squandered on a club that's mired under .500 and essentially out of the playoff picture.
But that's this year. Going forward, Chicago has its hands on a legitimate, franchise-defining player. A guy you build around. A guy who belongs in the conversation with Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera and the AL's other top-tier talents.
He's certainly the prohibitive front-runner for Rookie of the Year honors. What about MVP? Is he in the running there?
White Sox skipper Robin Ventura thinks so.
"He is one of the best players in the league. That's a fact," Ventura told Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune. "Whether people put him in it, I don't know, but I know he's up there with anybody that's running for it."
The most obvious comparison for Abreu is probably Cabrera, who has already ascended the Triple Crown mountain.
Here's White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers on the two AL Central mashers, per Kane:
(Abreu is) not Miguel Cabrera, but he has a chance to be something like that. Every at-bat, every day, the way he works, that's how I imagine Miguel works. It seems like he has just as much power, and a similar kind of swing too. He can take balls in and drive them out to right-center. He doesn't seem to get fooled too often. He's a complete hitter.
Baseball is a game of adjustments. Just as Abreu has adjusted to big league pitching and carved out a reputation as one of the game's most exciting young hitters, so too will pitchers adjust to him. There will be slumps. There will be struggles.
For now, though, he's riding high. Hitting home runs, yes, but also doing much, much more.
Maybe it shouldn't be such a surprise. Here's Abreu himself, to Merkin last October:
So much has been said about my power and the home runs I hit, but more than hitting home runs, when I'm at the plate, my mindset is to make sure I do what's needed for the team, whatever is needed at that moment, whatever the team needs of me. That's my strategy of play. I'm not thinking of home runs more than anything, it's just delivering what I'm asked to do.
As he wraps up his first MLB campaign, he's unequivocally doing what's been asked—and then some.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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