White Sox

White Sox see Jose Abreu taking the right approach to slump

White Sox see Jose Abreu taking the right approach to slump

Jose Abreu hasn’t had a stretch like this in the major leagues, maybe ever. 

The White Sox first baseman entered Friday night’s game against the Texas Rangers hitting .190 with a .646 OPS, cringe-worthy numbers for a guy who’s made a living mashing baseballs since arriving in the United Stated two and a half years ago. It’s hard to find a stretch nearly this bad in his major league game log; his slumps are often shorter than and not as pronounced as this 16-game malaise.

There was a 26-game stretch from April 26 through May 26 of 2015 that’s probably the worst he’s had, in which he hit .248/.315/.356 with three home runs. But that turned out to be nothing to worry about, as Abreu finished last season with 30 home runs and an .850 OPS.

The White Sox, though, are hardly concerned with Abreu’s slow start to the 2016 season. It’s just 16 games, after all, which represents 5 percent of the major league games in which he’s played. But more importantly, manager Robin Ventura said the 29-year-old Cuban hasn’t changed who he is during this slump.

“I think guys look at it as an anomaly of him going through this,” Ventura said. “I think he's handled it well. You wouldn't really know from day to day because of the way he handles it. He works, he's an over-worker almost, of going in the cage and tinkering with stuff and being able to try and find that feeling.

“Right now, he doesn't have that feeling. but when he gets it he can go on a tear.”

Abreu was seen in the White Sox clubhouse long after Thursday's loss to the Los Angeles Angels dripping with sweat, having taken extra batting practice following his second consecutive 0-4 day at the plate. Ventura said Abreu’s been chasing too many bad pitches lately, though it hasn’t resulted in a noticeable drop in his contact rate. What has dropped, though, is his hard contact percentage, which sits about 7 percent lower than it was last year. 

“Is he better than that? Do we expect more of him? Absolutely,” Ventura said, “and we have confidence he's going to do that. As soon as he stops chasing it he's going to be just fine.”

More than likely, Abreu’s April struggles will become a non-story chalked up to a small sample size. The 66 home runs and .904 OPS he compiled in 2014 and 2015 are better indicators than what he’s done — or hasn’t — in 2016. 

And too, Ventura hasn’t seen anything mentally from Abreu that makes him think this’ll turn into a larger problem. 

“His attitude has always been great and that's the thing that's going to carry him, whether he goes through a slump or whether he doesn’t,” Ventura said. “He's been through a slump, not like this part, but he's been through stuff where he's been able to bounce out of it.”

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.