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.

[SHOP: Buy a Jose Abreu jersey]

“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.”

Zack Burdi is pitching off a mound again

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USA TODAY

Zack Burdi is pitching off a mound again

Zack Burdi was thought of as a college pitcher who could make the major leagues quickly after he was drafted in 2016.

The White Sox drafted him 26th overall that year and it appeared his quick rise through the minors was going to come true. Burdi reached Triple-A Charlotte by the end of 2016 and had a 2.25 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 16 innings with the Knights.

However, he had Tommy John surgery in July and hasn't pitched in more than 11 months. The 23-year-old from Downers Grove is nearing his return and had video proof.

That's Burdi throwing off a mound, which means a rehab stint might not be far behind. Burdi may not getting into the full swing of things before the minor league season ends in early September, but this is a good sign for him being ready to go for spring training in 2019.

Before going on the disabled list, Burdi had a 4.05 ERA with 51 strikeouts and 17 walks in 33 1/3 innings with the Knights in 2017.

Which NL team is the biggest threat to the Cubs, José Abreu (still) consistently playing well

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USA TODAY

Which NL team is the biggest threat to the Cubs, José Abreu (still) consistently playing well

Ozzie Guillen and Doug Glanville join Leila Rahimi to discuss what National League team is the biggest threat for the Cubs, possible minor league moves for the White Sox and if Addison Russell should be 'always ready' versus expecting an off day.

Plus, we go pregaming with Siera Santos.

Listen to the full Baseball Night in Chicago podcast here