White Sox

As White Sox prospects develop, Jose Abreu shows off consistency that could make him anchor of dreamy future lineup

As White Sox prospects develop, Jose Abreu shows off consistency that could make him anchor of dreamy future lineup

White Sox fans are understandably looking toward the future.

The daily scans of the minor league box scores, the giddiness over each new set of prospect rankings, the daydreaming about the 2020 lineup. All great ways to pass the time while waiting for the franchise’s rebuild to reach its apex.

But while all that talent develops down on the farm, Jose Abreu keeps on crushing at the big league level.

The consistent presence in the middle of the White Sox batting order flashed that consistency — and just how impressive that consistency has been — again Saturday night, blasting a pair of home runs in the team’s 5-4 loss to the visiting Kansas City Royals. They were his 20th and 21st round-trippers of the season, making him the first player in franchise history to turn in four straight 20-homer seasons to begin his major league career.

Both before the rebuild and during it, Abreu has been a constant for the White Sox. And if all goes according to plan, he’ll still be doing his thing when that championship window finally opens a couple years down the line.

“I’m happy for that fact,” Abreu said through an interpreter when told of his franchise-record feat. “I’m happy because it’s something that makes you feel that your work has been for a purpose. And I’m happy because I could accomplish this with the support of my family, the support of my teammates and the support of all the people that have been around me during this time in this organization.

“I could do that because I’ve been healthy and that’s the most important. If you are healthy, you can do good things. You can’t do anything if you are not healthy.”

Abreu has talked often about how he’s trying to serve as a mentor to young Latin players like Yoan Moncada and prospects like Luis Robert. But whether Spanish-speaking or not, any of the White Sox future stars should be able to take cue from Abreu, who is now just four long balls away from making it four straight 25-homer seasons in a White Sox uniform.

His preparation and work ethic earn him rave reviews from all over White Sox clubhouses past and present. His production earns him applause and recognition from fans and observers. He says it’s the only way he knows how to do things.

“That was the way my parents and my family raised to be, especially as a player. And that’s something that is the only way I know how to play baseball,” he said. “Working hard, putting myself in the best position I can be to play.

“Also, if I don’t do that, I know that my mom is going to call me and is going to say something to me.”

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That approach — or perhaps that fear of motherly punishment — has yielded terrific results since he arrived from Cuba ahead of what ended up as a Rookie of the Year 2014 campaign. He belted 36 home runs, drove in 107 runs and slashed .317/.383/.582 that year. As a follow-up, Abreu hit 30 homers and drove in 101 runs in 2015. Last season it was 25 dingers and 100 RBIs. He’s four homers and 30 RBIs away from hitting the 25-100 mark again in 2017.

Prior to Saturday’s multi-homer game — the ninth of his career and third this season — Abreu was going through one of his rare rough patches during an otherwise consistently excellent campaign. He entered Saturday hitting just .243 since the All-Star break and with only eight hits and no homers since the beginning of August.

Consider that slump snapped with Saturday’s performance. And why? Well, that’s just another example of Abreu’s work paying off.

“It’s not a secret that since the All-Star break, I haven’t been producing as I was doing in the first half,” Abreu said. “But it’s just like the way that I’m thinking in the at-bats, probably my mind is not in the right spots. Trying to figure out what kind of pitch the pitcher is going to throw to me or it’s just a matter of my focus is not where it used to be before. But I’m working in trying to get to that point again and I’m just sticking with my plan and approach.”

“He had an excellent day today. He worked really hard, came early, worked really hard,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s been upset at himself, he feels like he hasn’t been doing enough for us. I said, ‘Jeez, you do more than you imagine.’”

While Renteria has always been enthusiastic about helming the team during this rebuild, during a season where his roster changed dramatically leading up to the trade deadline, there’s got to be a certain comfort drawn from writing Abreu’s name in the lineup every day.

And while there’s plenty of reason to be hopeful about the army of top-rated prospects Rick Hahn has assembled in the farm system, those players’ futures are unknown until they crack the bigs. Abreu? Having that known quantity — and a darn good one, at that — is a real luxury. So too is having him as an example to point to when those young players arrive.

“He continues to impress by the way he goes about doing his business,” Renteria said. “I think he’s a really good example to everybody about staying the course, working hard. And obviously he’s got a skill and the strength that allows him to do what he’s done. It’s nice to have it.”

There will be a contract situation to deal with, of course. Abreu has two more offseasons of arbitration before he hits free agency ahead of the 2020 campaign, the year many White Sox fans have circled as the year contention begins.

But White Sox fans might want to save a spot in that dreamy future lineup for the guy who was here before the rebuild even started. Because if the years to come are anything like what’s happened over the first four years of Abreu’s career, he’ll still be a mighty valuable piece smack dab in the middle.

White Sox Talk Podcast: Peter Gammons explains why Michael Kopech will win a Cy Young Award

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Peter Gammons explains why Michael Kopech will win a Cy Young Award

On Day 2 of the MLB Winter Meetings, Chuck Garfien speaks with legendary baseball writer Peter Gammons, who shares his knowledge about the key figures in the White Sox rebuild.

He explains why Michael Kopech will win a Cy Young Award one day, and he raves about Carson Fulmer as well as the returns the White Sox got last year at the Winter Meetings in the Sale and Eaton trades.

Then Garfien is joined by White Sox manager Rick Renteria who talks about Jose Abreu’s leadership, if he sees the White Sox trading Abreu, what he’s seen from Luis Robert and more.

We wrap up the podcast with NBC Sports Chicago’s Vinnie Duber, who’s covering the White Sox at the Winter Meetings. They discuss whether the White Sox would trade for Manny Machado or Christian Yelich and give a list of free-agent pitchers the White Sox should sign.  

Carson Fulmer expected to be part of White Sox rotation, but is he a part of the rebuild's future?

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USA TODAY

Carson Fulmer expected to be part of White Sox rotation, but is he a part of the rebuild's future?

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The White Sox starting rotation is coming into focus.

With James Shields, Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez locked into the top three slots, one of the items on the team’s offseason to-do list was to figure out who the final two spots would go to.

Obviously, Carlos Rodon has a spot when he’s healthy. But after having surgery at the end of last season, there’s no telling when he’ll be back. General manager Rick Hahn keeps saying it could be by Opening Day or it could be by June, and there has been no change to that prognosis at the Winter Meetings here at the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort.

One of the two open spots, though, appears set to go to Carson Fulmer, the White Sox first-round draft pick back in 2015. Hahn said if everything remains the same as it is right now, the team expects Fulmer to be one of its five starting pitchers in 2018.

“We certainly have the expectation that he’ll be part of the rotation come the end of spring training,” Hahn said during his daily briefing Tuesday. “Let’s see how everybody shows up, health wise, any other potential transactions between now and then, and what the ultimate fit is and what’s best for his long-term development. But as we sit here today, I think you could look at him as one of our five.”

While Fulmer was drafted out of Vanderbilt to be a starting pitcher of the future, he’s made just five big league starts in his mere 15 appearances in the majors. As a reliever in 2016, things went poorly, as he allowed 11 runs in just 11.2 innings. Last season was better, at least after his first appearance of the season, in which he gave up six runs in 1.1 innings in a start on Aug. 21. He came back in September and posted a 1.64 ERA in six appearances, which included four starts.

Hahn admitted Tuesday that Fulmer might have been rushed to the big leagues after being selected with the No. 8 pick in 2015. But if Fulmer can replicate what happened in September, maybe there’s another future piece people should be talking about.

“He’s had some hardships thrown his way, both with getting accelerated a little too quickly to get the big leagues initially given where we were as a club at the time to some off-the-field stuff. But he’s bounced back from all of it, he hasn’t hung his head at all, and I think in September we saw him hit his stride a little bit and show some of the flashes of what he’s capable of doing,” Hahn said. “We certainly view him as a guy who has the ability to contribute both in the rotation or in the ‘pen depending on where the need is.”

Considering Fulmer was drafted and even made his major league debut before the much-heralded rebuild officially began, it’s easy to let him slip through the cracks when mentioning highly rated prospects like Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Eloy Jimenez and even fellow pitchers like Giolito and Lopez. But Hahn said he thinks Fulmer should be included in that group of names, too.

“I think so,” Hahn said. “From a fit standpoint, from a clubhouse standpoint, it’s tough to beat him. From success in big games, we saw that going back to Vanderbilt. So he’s been tested under the brightest lights at each stage and succeeded. Now it’s a matter of him, as we saw to an extent in September, seizing the opportunity that’s in front of him and making the most of it.”

It sure looks like Fulmer will get that opportunity — even if the White Sox add a veteran to help balance out a young rotation. And then he can prove if he is truly a long-term piece of the puzzle on the South Side.