The 2013 season was a year of disappointment for the Chicago White Sox. The offense struggled to score, plating 150 fewer runs than in 2012 and the team as a whole suffered to the tune of a 22 game drop in the win column. A major cause of that struggle came at the hands of first baseman Paul Konerko. For that reason, Sox management swung for the fences this past off-season by giving Cuban defector and slugger Jose Abreu $68 million over six years. To understand this, let’s take a brief look at why Chicago wants him.
While Konerko has built a nice career with the White Sox, 2013 was clearly a major let-down. He ended the 2013 season well below his career average in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, home runs, runs and hits. Granted, he did have a stint on the disabled list dealing with a lower back issue, it’s clear that he really struggled. For that reason, Abreu will be a welcome sight to “The Windy City.”
First of all, he’s a pretty big guy at 6’2″ and 258 lbs. He has raw power, decent patience and makes great contact. Take a look at what he did in Cuba in 2013 — a slash of .382/.535/.735 and in 42 games, he hit a hefty 13 home runs. That may not sound like much, but multiply that by 3.5 to compare it to 147 games, which is a very reasonable number of 1B games played . . . 45.5.
But that’s not all! The season before, he hit .394/.542/.837 with 35 home runs in 71 games. We can double that to get to 142 games and suddenly it’s like he hit 70 long balls. That’s a slugger.
It should be pointed out here that these numbers didn’t come against major league pitching, and doubling or tripling numbers in order to see how they compare against a full MLB schedule is not always accurate. But that still gives us perspective of what he did during the window of time we are looking at and helps with context.
With all this in mind, Abreu enters the 2014 season as a leading candidate to win the American League Rookie of the Year. Garnering comparisons to Miguel Cabrera from fellow Cuban Yeonis Cespedes, and Cespedes himself from others, there is a lot of upside to Abreu’s game.
Baseball America lists him as the top prospect in the White Sox organization and the 27 year-old impressed his new club last month at the White Sox mini-hitter camp. All the signs point to a big first year for Abreu. The consensus is that he could immediately become a Triple Crown contender. Longevity and the ability to adapt to the big league stage will determine that.
While trying to remain conservative in my predictions, I like what I see in Abreu. Chicago will most certainly put him in the middle of the order right out of the gate. I believe he’ll finish among the top three in AL Rookie of the Year voting after batting .295 with a .350 OBP, 25 home runs and 90 RBI. I also believe he’ll be the most popular jersey sold to White Sox fans in 2014.