White Sox

Avisail Garcia's All-Star teammates are impressed with White Sox outfielder's breakout season

Avisail Garcia's All-Star teammates are impressed with White Sox outfielder's breakout season

MIAMI -- Andrew Miller actively roots for players like White Sox outfielder Avisail Garcia.

Now one of baseball’s most dominant relievers, the Cleveland Indians pitcher didn’t experience true, consistent success until he’d been in the major leagues for five years.

Similar to Garcia, Miller has experienced the ups and downs of the big leagues. He remembers that feeling of wondering whether or not he belonged in the fraternity and the doubts it created.

So even though they may be divisional rivals, Miller said he’s elated to share the same American League All-Star clubhouse with the once highly-touted Garcia, who is in the midst of a breakout season after several years of struggling with the White Sox.  

“It kind of feels like a roller coaster,” Miller said. “You have a good inning or a good at-bat or a good day and feel like you have it all figured out and the next time doesn’t go so well and you’re ready to quit. As much physical ability as this game takes, the mental side of it is probably even more important. For most guys it takes time. A lot of times expectations are a little out of whack.”

The baseball world first heard about Garcia when he was dubbed Mini Miggy because of the similarities to then Detroit Tigers-teammate Miguel Cabrera. Garcia then made a name for himself in the 2012 AL championship series when he had five hits and three RBIs against the New York Yankees.

When he arrived on the South Side in 2013, Garcia was touted as a five-tool player with great speed and next-level power. He immediately excelled with the White Sox, hitting .304/.327/.447 in his first 168 plate appearances.

But the next step didn’t arrive until this season and only after several trying years. An April shoulder surgery effectively wiped out Garcia’s 2014 campaign and he produced subpar offensive seasons in 2015 and 2016.

“It’s always great when players experience success right at the beginning because that’s everything you want and you dream about when you come up here,” Kansas City Royals pitcher Jason Vargas said. “But in all reality there’s only a few guys that sustain that. We know who they are for the most part. The rest of us have to figure out how to battle and grind it out. That’s part of the beauty of the game.”

“It’s really nice to see guys get comfortable with that and blossom the way he is and tapping into all that talent that everybody can see.”

[MORE: AVISAIL GARCIA 'GONNA PLAY FOR SURE' IN ALL-STAR GAME]

When Corey Kluber prepares to face Garcia he now sees fewer ways to get him out. The 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner said Garcia’s talent has always been evident. But now he’s brought more consistency to his plate appearances.

“Each year you can see improvements,” Kluber said. “Guys like him who are a big prospect, there’s a reason why most of the time. Now it’s kind of culminating into having a really good year.

“He may have had a few more holes early on than he has now, but I think there’s always that talent that’s been there.”

Miller agrees -- “we’ve always seen the swing and the ability is there.”

But the Indians reliever thinks the confidence and belief have helped to transform Garcia, who has consistently showed a better plan at the plate. Vargas said Garcia “just wore out” Kansas City’s pitchers earlier this season.

Miller has seen the same from Garcia, too. Even though they’ll be back on the opposite sides of the field soon, Miller will continue to appreciate Garcia from afar for the similarities in their career paths.

“His approach has been really refined this year, whether it’s pitch recognition or laying off a pitch here or there,” Miller said. “He’s been really good.

“He’s shown he can still be the player that maybe people were talking about a couple of years ago. It’s certainly not a knock that it took him a couple years. He’s been holding his own in the major leagues.

“Based on what we’ve seen I would assume he’s going the right direction and is going to be here for a while.”

White Sox Talk Podcast: American League All-Stars rave about Jose Abreu

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: American League All-Stars rave about Jose Abreu

With Jose Abreu playing in the All-Star Game, we asked some of his American League teammates about the White Sox first baseman. Justin Verlander, Craig Kimbrel and Michael Brantley rave about Abreu, explaining why he’s such a great hitter and a tough out for pitchers. 

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below:

All Star of the present Jose Abreu trying to help Yoan Moncada become the All Star of the future for White Sox

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USA TODAY

All Star of the present Jose Abreu trying to help Yoan Moncada become the All Star of the future for White Sox

WASHINGTON, D.C. — While the White Sox wait for their All Stars of the future to develop, Jose Abreu is representing the club at the All-Star Game in the nation’s capital.

Abreu, elected by the fans to be the American League’s starting first baseman Tuesday night, might represent the White Sox present, but he’s a key part of their future, as well. While his contract situation remains a mystery — the team would need to extend him in order to keep around past the 2019 season — he’s helping to develop the players who are planned to make up the next contending group on the South Side.

No player is more under Abreu’s guiding hand than Yoan Moncada, his fellow Cuban who just a season ago was the No. 1 prospect in baseball. Moncada’s development from top prospect into star of the future is the biggest storyline of the season for the White Sox. And Abreu, the role model in this clubhouse, is in part tasked with helping Moncada do just that.

“Our friendship is special,” Moncada said through a team translator last week. “We’re always talking about everything, having fun. He gives me advice, and I always try to make fun of him. Our relationship has been for a long time. We were friends in Cuba. And now we are rejoined here. It’s just a very good relationship. I’m blessed having him here.”

“He’s a Cuban, and it’s always special to play with a fellow Cuban countryman. He’s a great kid,” Abreu said through a team translator Monday. “I think that it’s a blessing. The White Sox did all that they could do for us to play together. I’m just enjoying the moment and every day with him. It’s special. It’s definitely a very special feeling.”

Abreu is often lauded by White Sox brass as the perfect example of what they want their young players to become. His incredible production makes that an easy comparison: He put up at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs in each of his first four major league seasons. But it’s what he does outside the lines that gets the highest praise. Rick Hahn, Rick Renteria and all of Abreu’s teammates constantly talk about his work ethic, his routine, his dedication to getting better and the way he goes about his business.

Moncada’s noticed. And he sees Abreu’s latest accomplishment — getting picked as an All-Star starter — as vindication that, yes, Abreu’s methods certainly work.

“Knowing him, knowing all the effort that he puts into his preparation, his work ethic, all that work that he puts into his preparation is paying off and he’s recognized with this election,” Moncada said. “That’s something that motivates you, something that lets you know that if you do things the right way, you’re going to get rewarded. For me, it’s a motivation, and I feel really honored to share this team with him.”

Moncada’s first full season in the bigs hasn’t gone smoothly. He’s had his hot stretches — including the last couple weeks; he’s slashing .356/.453/.644 since July 2 — but he’s also had long periods of struggles. Certain aspects, such as a propensity for striking out and making errors at second base, have been constants throughout the campaign.

Renteria refers to the mistakes and the poor results as teachable moments. Does he have a proxy teacher in Abreu?

“I tell him to enjoy the game,” Abreu said. “Enjoy the game, have fun, be a little more focused on the situation of the game. But I think the key is to have fun.”

Mostly, though, Abreu is convinced that Moncada will blossom into the kind of player White Sox fans hoped he would when he brought that top-prospect track record to the organization in the Chris Sale trade. The expectations are undoubtedly high, but Abreu’s been seeing Moncada meet them for some time. The two have known each other since the younger Moncada was 17 years old.

“I think that he was born with special abilities to play this sport,” Abreu said. “Before I met him, there were a lot of people talking about him in Cuba because of his abilities, the talent that he has. And when I met him, it was a very special moment. As soon as I met him, I realized, ‘Wow, what people say about him is true.’ His body type, his ability to play the game. He’s special.”

So will the All Star of today and the All Star of tomorrow one day share the All-Star stage?

“I would like to have that opportunity. Let’s pray to God to have that opportunity,” Abreu said. “If that happens, that would be really special for us.”