White Sox

White Sox: Jose Abreu adjusts to avoid a sophomore slump

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White Sox: Jose Abreu adjusts to avoid a sophomore slump

Jose Abreu worked through some second-year turbulence and managed to avoid a dreaded sophomore slump.

The 28-year-old first baseman entered Thursday — he wasn’t in the White Sox matinee lineup against the Oakland Athletics — with 29 home runs, 93 RBIs, an .874 OPS and 3.3 fWAR. His production hasn’t been as good as it was during his 2014 Rookie of the Year season (36 HR, 107 RBIs, .964 OPS, 5.3 WAR) but he’s still hitting at a high level, which is encouraging for the White Sox moving forward with him under contract through 2019.

[MORE: How technology has helped Jose Abreu maintain his swing]

Abreu’s ability to successfully adjust to a league that has more than a full year of scouting reports and video on him means his trajectory hasn’t been thrown off, even if his numbers are merely very good in 2015.

“The first year you’re so excited to be here and that can carry you through a lot of it,” Ventura said. “Then you realize people are making adjustments. They’ve seen you, they’re looking at tapes and they have a plan for you. That really solidifies your place of where you’re at, once people make adjustments and once you’re making adjustments of who you are and how you fit in the game and on your team. He’s done a great job.

Abreu’s walk rate is down from 8.2 percent in 2014 to 5.6 percent in 2015, though there are a few reasons behind that. Early in the year, when nearly everyone in the White Sox lineup was mired in a slump, opposing pitchers didn’t give Abreu much to hit. He chased plenty of those pitches, and also dealt with a sore finger that limited him to 14 home runs and an .835 OPS in 81 first-half games.

But since the All-Star break Abreu has been more selective, especially on fastballs and sliders.

The results since that mid-July breather have represented Abreu’s return to being a middle-of-the-order force: .297/.367/.560 with 15 home runs and a 7.3 percent walk rate in 58 games, all of which are much more in line with his 2014 full-season numbers.

“I don’t think he quite had the power that he’s used to or accustomed to so part of that is an adjustment of finding a way to get through that (finger injury), fighting through it until you get healthy enough to take your own swing and pull the ball the right way,” Ventura said. “He’s done a great job of fighting through that and getting to where he is now. Last year people were talking about how he dropped off in the second half where now it’s turned around. That’s just experience, learning how they’re pitching you, learning the league and being healthy.”

[MORE: Trayce Thompson out of White Sox lineup, but not 2016 plans]

If Abreu hits one more home run and drives in seven more runs, he’ll join Albert Pujols as the only players with at least 30 home runs and 100 RBIs in their first two major league seasons. He’s a power hitter in his prime at a time when power isn’t easy to come by — entering Thursday, only 16 players had 30 or more home runs.

And with the Year 2 test successfully passed, the White Sox can move forward with little doubt about Abreu’s place in their lineup for the rest of the decade.

“For him he’s able to make adjustments himself, confidence-wise of going through it seeing how people are going to do that, the second year is really an indicator of where you’re at, what your possibilities are,” Ventura said. “I think he can get better.”

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

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USA TODAY

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

The White Sox freed up a spot on their 40-man roster Sunday, outrighting pitcher Dylan Covey to Triple-A Charlotte.

Covey pitched in 18 games last season, making 12 starts for the South Siders. Things did not go well, with Covey turning in an 0-7 record and a 7.71 ERA in 70 innings.

While there was an outside chance that Covey could have provided at least some starting-pitching depth heading into the 2018 season, the team's recent additions of Miguel Gonzalez and Hector Santiago — not to mention Covey's results from last season — wiped out that idea.

At the moment, the White Sox starting rotation figures to look like this by Opening Day: James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer, with Santiago seeming like a good option to provide depth as the long man in the bullpen.

Jose Abreu's got a new beard, but what he really deserves is a contract extension

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USA TODAY

Jose Abreu's got a new beard, but what he really deserves is a contract extension

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Sunday marked the first surprise of White Sox spring training, courtesy of first baseman Jose Abreu.

“This year, I’m going to try to steal more bases,” Abreu said through a translator.

This might have sounded like a joke, but Abreu was completely serious.

On paper, he’s not exactly Rickey Henderson. In 614 career games, Abreu has only six stolen bases. However, the slimmed-down first baseman does have some sneaky speed. His six triples last season ranked third in the American League. So there are some wheels to work with.

“I like the challenge. I think that’s a good challenge for me. I’m ready for it,” Abreu said.

How many steals are we talking about? A reporter asked sarcastically if a 30-30 season is in the offing? Abreu didn’t exactly shoot down the possibility.

“Who knows? When you fill your mind with positive things, maybe you can accomplish them,” Abreu said. “The mind of a human being works in a lot of different ways. If you fill your mind with good things, good things are going to happen.”

The morning began with Abreu walking to the hitting cages with his Cuban compadres Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, who the White Sox signed last summer. He held his first workout on Sunday. At the White Sox hitters camp last month, Moncada took Robert under his wing, showing him the ropes, even telling Ricky Renteria, “I got him.”

But Sunday, Abreu was in charge, holding court with the three of them in the cage. Abreu watched closely as Robert hit off a tee, giving him pointers about his swing.

“I just like to help people,” Abreu said. “When I started to play at 16 in Cuba, I had a lot people who hounded me to get better. At the same point, I want to give back things that I’ve learned and pass that along to other people. That’s what I’m doing. I’m not expecting anything else. I’m just glad to help them and get them better.”

What kind of advice has he passed along to Robert?

“Since I came to this country, I learned quickly three keys to be a success: Be disciplined, work hard and always be on time. If you apply those three keys, I think you’re going to be good. Those are the three keys I’m trying to teach the new kids, the young guys,” Abreu said.

Abreu lost about 10 pounds during the offseason. He said he hopes to learn more English in 2018. He also arrived at spring training sporting a scruffy beard which he grew while he was in Cuba so he “could be incongnito.”

Abreu likes his new look. Moncada thinks he should shave it off.

“If the organization doesn’t say anything, I’m just going to keep it,” Abreu said.

Well, so much for that.

Moments after Abreu spoke with the media, Renteria told reporters that Abreu will have to “clean it up a bit.”

The two will find a compromise. Come to think of it, maybe Abreu and the White Sox should do the same about a contract extension in the near future.

Yes, he’ll be 33 when his contract expires in two years, but there have been no signs of a decline with his performance. Instead, Abreu is only getting better both offensively and defensively.

Heck, now he wants to steal bases, too.

After Renteria, Abreu is the leader of this team. He commands ultimate respect inside the clubhouse. He’s become another coach to Moncada, Robert and others. He’s a huge brick in the present and too big of an influence and cornerstone to not have around in the future.

“I hope to play my entire career in the majors with the White Sox,” Abreu said Sunday. “But I can’t control that.”

At some point, a decision will have to be made whether to keep Abreu or trade him. In the meantime, ask yourself this question: What will bring more value to the White Sox, getting a high-end prospect or two in return not knowing if they’ll ever succeed in the majors? Or keeping your best player, the heart and soul of your team, allowing him to show your future stars the way while they’re developing in the major leagues?

Seems like an easy decision to me.