White Sox

After returning from Cuba, White Sox Jose Abreu ‘ready to give his all’ in 2016

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After returning from Cuba, White Sox Jose Abreu ‘ready to give his all’ in 2016

Since coming to the United States in 2013, life has been pretty good for White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu.

He’s one of only two players (Albert Pujols being the other) who has hit at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI in their first two seasons in the majors. He won Rookie of the Year in 2014, became a fan favorite on the South Side, getting arguably the loudest cheer at SoxFest 2016 when he was announced at the Opening Ceremony and, on a personal note, got married in November.

But in his two years in the majors, there was one thing Abreu, who turned 29 today, had yet to check off his list: return to Cuba.

Accomplishing that feat was easier said than done for Abreu. Cuba prohibited defectors like Abreu from returning to the country for at least eight years. But MLB and the Cuban government were able to construct a good-will tour that allowed players on the trip to return to Cuba and see their families. CSN was able to document Abreu’s emotional return in “Going Home: Jose Abreu” as he received a welcome fit for a king. “Pito,” as he’s known in Cuba, said he’s very grateful for everyone who made the trip happen.

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“It's a beautiful, beautiful feeling," Abreu said through a translator. "We have a lot of loved ones who we had to leave behind at some point in order to fulfill my dream to play professional baseball but the most important thing is that I got to come back and I thank God everyone is doing well”

Abreu’s 2015 season (30 HR 101 RBI .290 BA) in some ways was even more impressive than his rookie year (36 HR 107 RBI .317 BA). Pitchers now had enough film on the White Sox slugger to figure out the right way to approach facing him and Abreu was also surrounded by an offense that took a step back in 2015. 

White Sox GM Rick Hahn made a concerted effort to improve the lineup this offseason adding bats like third baseman Todd Frazier, who won the Home Run Derby, and second baseman Brett Lawrie, who hit more home runs than anyone else on the White Sox in 2015 outside of Abreu. Frazier, in particular, has Abreu excited for the potential of the team’s lineup this year.

[RELATED: Analysts think White Sox are ready to compete in 2016]

“Everyone knows about the importance of having a guy like Todd on the White Sox," Abreu said. "We are familiar with his skill set and believe me, he is very important to us. We couldn’t be happier to have him on this team.”

Nobody associated with the White Sox liked the taste of how last season ended (which was made even more clear by a few faint boos from fans during introductions at the Opening Ceremony). For Abreu, the next task to cross off on his list of accomplishments is to help lead his team to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. 

“For our team the most important thing is to compete," Abreu said. "Compete day by day and believe in what we can accomplish as a team. We have a good core of players. Personally I just want to stay healthy and obtain good results.

“Believe me my batteries are charged 100 percent and I am ready to give my all this upcoming season.”

White Sox prospect Micker Adolfo sidelined with elbow injuries

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USA TODAY

White Sox prospect Micker Adolfo sidelined with elbow injuries

PHOENIX, Ariz. — One of the White Sox prized prospects will be on the shelf for a little while.

Outfielder Micker Adolfo has a sprained UCL in his right elbow and a strained flexor tendon that could require surgery. He could avoid surgery, though he could be sidelined for at least six weeks.

Though he hasn’t received the same high rankings and media attention as fellow outfield prospects Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, Adolfo is considered a part of the White Sox promising future. He’s said to have the best outfield arm in the White Sox system.

Adolfo had a breakout season in 2017, slashing .264/.331/.453 with 16 homers and 68 RBIs in 112 games with Class A Kannapolis.

Adolfo, along with Jimenez and Robert, has been generating buzz at White Sox camp in Glendale, with a crowd forming whenever the trio takes batting practice. Earlier this week, the three described their conversation dreaming about playing together in the same outfield for a contending White Sox team in the future.

As Cactus League play begins, how many spots are actually up for grabs on the White Sox roster?

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AP

As Cactus League play begins, how many spots are actually up for grabs on the White Sox roster?

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Some teams have it easy, with their 25-man rosters seemingly locked into place before spring training games even start.

The White Sox actually have a lot more locked-down spots than you might think for a rebuilding team, but this spring remains pretty important for a few guys.

The starting rotation figures to be set, with James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Miguel Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer the starting five. Carlos Rodon, of course, owns one of those spots once he returns from injury. But the date of that return remains a mystery.

From this observer’s viewpoint, eight of the everyday nine position players seem to be figured out, too: Welington Castillo behind the plate, Jose Abreu at first base, Yoan Moncada at second base, Tim Anderson at shortstop, Yolmer Sanchez at third base, Nicky Delmonico in left field, Avisail Garcia in right field and Matt Davidson as the designated hitter. More on the omission of a starting center fielder in a bit.

Omar Narvaez would be a logical pick to back up Castillo at catcher, and Tyler Saladino is really the lone reserve infielder with big league experience, not to mention he’s a versatile player that can play anywhere on the infield.

Leury Garcia also figures to be a lock for this 25-man roster. But will he be the everyday center fielder, as he was for a spell last season? He played 51 games in center in 2017 but battled injuries throughout the year. I think Leury Garcia will end up the starting center fielder when the season begins because of his bat. His .270/.316/.423 slash line isn’t going to make anyone do cartwheels, but it’s better than the offensive struggles of Adam Engel, who started 91 games in center in 2017 and slashed .166/.235/.282. Engel would still be a solid inclusion on the bench because of his superb defense, but to create that big a hole in the everyday lineup is tough.

How could that position-player group change? Keep your eyes in center field, where there are a couple other guys who could force their way into a roster spot this spring: Charlie Tilson and Ryan Cordell. Tilson has had a tremendous amount of trouble staying on the field since coming over to the White Sox in a 2016 deadline deal, but that hasn’t dampened the White Sox hopes for him. And Cordell got name-dropped by general manager Rick Hahn during SoxFest, when the GM said he’s received multiple calls about Cordell since acquiring him last summer. Cordell put up good numbers at the Triple-A level prior to a significant injury last year.

But the main battles figure to be in the bullpen. At times this winter, as the White Sox kept adding players to that relief corps mix, that the whole thing seemed wide open. But when you think about it, maybe there are only one or two open spots.

You’d have to think these guys are pretty safe bets to make the team: Juan Minaya, Gregory Infante, Nate Jones, Joakim Soria and Luis Avilan. Though Hector Santiago was just recently acquired on a minor league deal, he’s really the only long man of the group, and he could sub in if there’s an injury to a starting pitcher. That leaves two spots between the group of Aaron Bummer, Danny Farquhar, Jace Fry, Jose Ruiz and Thyago Vieira — not to mention guys signed to minor league deals like Xavier Cedeno, Jeanmar Gomez and Bruce Rondon.

Bummer had a 4.50 ERA in 30 big league games last year. Farquhar had a 4.40 ERA in 15 games. Vieira has gotten attention as a flame-thrower, but he’s got just one big league game under his belt, something that might or might not matter to the rebuilding White Sox. Guys like Gomez, who has 40 career saves including 37 just two years ago, and Rondon, who had multiple shots at the Detroit Tigers’ closing job in the past, could vault themselves into the mix as potential midseason trade candidates.

Then there's the question of which of those guys will be Rick Renteria's closer. Minaya had closing duties after most of the bullpen was traded away last summer. He picked up nine saves and posted a 4.11 ERA in his final 17 appearances of the campaign. Look to Soria, though, a veteran with plenty of closing experience from his days with the Kansas City Royals. If he's given the opportunity to close and succeeds, he could fetch an intriguing return package in a potential deadline deal.

But now it's game time in Arizona.

“The fun part of playing the game of baseball is playing the game of baseball," Renteria said earlier this week. "We prepare. I think they all enjoy what they’re doing in terms of their preparation. They take it seriously, they focus. But ultimately like everything that we do in life, I guess it’s a test. And the games are a test for us on a daily basis. And how we are able to evaluate them and take advantage of the opportunities that we have to see them in a real game situation is certainly helpful for us.”