White Sox

White Sox: Jose Abreu adapting to new challenges in Year 2

jose-abreu-white-sox-7-04-15.png

White Sox: Jose Abreu adapting to new challenges in Year 2

At his current pace, Jose Abreu won’t equal the 36 home runs he blasted en route to winning American League Rookie of the Year honors in 2014. His solo home run Friday, which turned out to be the game-winner in a 1-0 White Sox victory, was No. 14 in game No. 73. Through the same number of games last year, Abreu had 27 home runs.

That’s not to say Abreu is having a bad 2015 season — he still has an .836 OPS, which in a power-starved landscape ranks 32nd among qualified MLB hitters. But his production nonetheless has dropped off, which manager Robin Ventura believes is due to a few factors.

“I think (pitchers) are more careful,” Ventura said. “… It also goes with offensively the way it has been going. If we have a better offensive group going at one time, people are going to pitch to him more. That’s the same for us going against other teams. If somebody is not surrounding (Miguel Cabrera) very good, then we are going to pitch around him and be careful.”

[MORE: First-rounder Carson Fulmer gives back after signing with White Sox]

Abreu spent most of the season hitting behind the struggling Adam Eaton and Melky Cabrera, and in front of Adam LaRoche, who entered Saturday with a .395 slugging percentage. Ventura bumped Abreu to the No. 2 hole in the lineup in Detroit and plans on sticking with him there for now to get him more at-bats.

But pitchers have been a little more careful with Abreu, and he hasn’t necessarily adapted well to it. He’s seeing first-pitch strikes in 54 percent of his plate appearances, the 18th-lowest percentage among qualified hitters and down five percent from 2014.

Pitchers are throwing inside on him less and getting him to swing at more pitches low and away than he did last year, according to BrooksBaseball.net. But Abreu isn’t swinging and missing at those pitches low and off the plate — instead, he’s putting them into play for weaker contact, which shows as his ground ball and popup rates are slightly up from 2014.

Abreu’s 13 double plays are the most in the American League and he’s not drawing many walks (15 in 289 plate appearances), either.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Get your White Sox gear right here]

“I haven’t been able to adjust to the pitches,” Abreu said through a translator. “It’s all on me. Sometimes I have to do a better job in my at-bats.”

Figuring out how to adjust to the league’s adjustments is part of the process for Abreu to regain his elite level of offensive production in Year 2. Plenty of power hitters have been pitched around, and it’s on Abreu and the White Sox to figure out how to deal with it.

“For him, he just has to be able to adapt to that and realize he’s not going to get as many strikes as last year, maybe,” Ventura said. “It can be tough to go through that. (Barry) Bonds had that when he was in his hot streak. … When he got his one pitch they were going to give him, he didn’t miss.

“For Jose, being able to battle through it and grind it out. Last night was no different. When he gets his one pitch, he’ll be able to do something with it.”

Eloy Jimenez is swinging some kind of a hot bat in Triple-A, giving White Sox fans visions of the (near?) future

0722_eloy_jimenez.jpg
USA TODAY

Eloy Jimenez is swinging some kind of a hot bat in Triple-A, giving White Sox fans visions of the (near?) future

The White Sox once more dropped to 30 games below .500 on Sunday, providing another reminder that this isn't the season where the team will be competing for a playoff spot or any kind of championship.

But all fans have to do is check the box scores rolling in from Triple-A Charlotte to get another kind of reminder: that a season where the White Sox will be competing for a playoff spot and a championship could be right around the corner.

Eloy Jimenez, the team's top-rated prospect and the No. 2 prospect in baseball, is killing it lately. Since returning from the disabled list in the middle of the month, Jimenez has a .424 batting average and is slugging a jaw-dropping .818 — thanks to three homers and four doubles — in eight games.

These are just the latest superb numbers from Jimenez, who has torn it up all season long, first at Double-A Birmingham and then in Charlotte since his promotion on July 1. Heading into Sunday's game, he was slashing .324/.375/.572 between the two levels. Then he upped those numbers with a base hit in his lone plate appearance as a pinch hitter in Sunday's game.

The only thing that can be seen as a negative for Jimenez this season — and this really isn't too much of one — has been health. While he's avoided the significant injuries that have stolen months of development time away from the likes of Luis Robert, Alec Hansen, Dane Dunning, Jake Burger and Micker Adolfo, Jimenez did start the season late with a pec injury and then missed a couple weeks earlier this month with a strained adductor muscle. Judging by the results, neither injury has done much (if anything) to negatively impact his offensive capabilities.

And so with the statistics remaining ridiculously good and getting better, the question that's dogged the White Sox dating back to the end of last season remains: When will Jimenez join the big league roster?

Only the White Sox have the answer to that question at the moment, but it would figure to be some time relatively soon and almost certainly before this season is over. That might not be specific enough for the fans clamoring to watch Jimenez play on the South Side. But take some cues from what general manager Rick Hahn has been saying all season:

First off, the White Sox performance and place in the standings will have no bearing on when Jimenez is promoted. The team will not bring Jimenez up just to inject some life into the final 60 games of the 2018 campaign. Jimenez's development has nothing to do with this team's win-loss record and is completely tied to the team's future, not its present.

Second, Hahn has talked about the benefits of Jimenez receiving at-bats at the Triple-A level and gaining experience facing the kinds of pitchers he didn't face in the lower levels of the minor leagues. He obviously didn't put a number on it, so the argument that Jimenez's 80 plate appearances in 20 games are enough to determine he's big league ready is potentially valid or potentially invalid, depending on what the White Sox have determined they want to see behind the scenes.

Third, Hahn has often said that not everything shows up in box scores. While Jimenez is putting up big numbers, the team is looking for other things that aren't as easy to recognize for those of us who aren't in the player-development business, not to mention those of us who don't even have an MiLB.TV subscription. Hahn said the same thing when Michael Kopech started the season in dominating fashion, and Kopech remains at Triple-A as the White Sox continue to wait for him to reach certain developmental benchmarks.

Fourth, Hahn has pointed to last year's treatment of Yoan Moncada as somewhat of a template for how the White Sox will treat their highest-rated prospects who are close to reaching the majors. Moncada, unlike Jimenez, had a small amount of big league experience before joining the organization in the Chris Sale trade, making his case slightly different. But he, too, was putting up good numbers at Triple-A, with a .282/.377/.447 slash line before his promotion on July 19. Moncada debuted about this time last season after doing well at the Triple-A level, but remember that he played 80 games there after starting the season with Charlotte. Jimenez joined that club in the middle of the season and has played in a quarter of the games that Moncada did before getting the call to make his White Sox debut. Though it's true that Jimenez is putting up significantly more impressive offensive numbers.

So "relatively soon" is perhaps the best we can do right now when trying to predict when Jimenez will reach the South Side. The White Sox have their own checklist when it comes to Jimenez's development, just like they do with every player, and only they will know when he's completed that list.

What is no mystery is how Jimenez is faring at Triple-A. He's swinging a red-hot bat, and few would argue that the numbers don't look major league ready. There's more to it than just the numbers, of course, but it would figure to be a safe bet that White Sox fans will be able to start purchasing Jimenez shirseys before the clock runs out on the 2018 season.

Avi Garcia's played in fewer than 20 games since April, but could he still attract trade-deadline suitors?

Avi Garcia's played in fewer than 20 games since April, but could he still attract trade-deadline suitors?

Avisail Garcia returned from his latest disabled-list stint with a bang, smacking a three-run home run in the fourth inning Saturday in Seattle.

The White Sox right fielder hasn't even played in 20 games since late April, when he went on his first DL trip, which lasted two months. A second, also featuring an injury to his hamstring, made it two weeks between games.

But when he has been able to step to the plate this summer, Garcia has been tremendously productive. He came into Saturday night with a .333/.347/.783 slash line and a whopping eight home runs in the 17 games he played in between his two DL stays. Then he added that homer Saturday night off longtime Mariners ace Felix Hernandez, giving him nine homers in his last 14 games.

Keeping this up could do an awful lot of things for Garcia: It could make his ice-cold start a distant memory, it could prove that last year's All-Star season might not have been a fluke, and it could keep him entrenched in the conversation about the White Sox outfield of the future, giving the team one of those good problems to have when deciding how he would fit into the puzzle alongside top prospects like Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert.

But here's another possibility: Has Garcia swung a hot enough bat in his limited action that he could be a trade candidate before this month runs out?

The White Sox don't figure to have too many players who are going to get contending teams worked up into a lather. James Shields, Joakim Soria, Luis Avilan, Xavier Cedeno. Those guys could classify as additions that would bolster teams' depth, but they might not be the attractive upgrades the White Sox were able to trade away last summer.

Garcia, though, could be. He might not slide into the middle of the order for too many contenders, but someone looking for a starting corner outfielder might be enticed by the kind of numbers Garcia has put up in June and July, albeit in a small sample size. Teams would also have to consider his health. He's already been to the disabled list twice this season. Teams would certainly have to be confident he wouldn't return in order to make a deal.

On the White Sox end, Garcia would figure to fetch a far more intriguing return package than the aforementioned pitchers, given that he's still pretty young (27) with one more season of team control after this one.

The White Sox have plenty of options when it comes to Garcia. They could deal him now, deal him later or keep as a part of the rebuild, extending him and making him a featured player on the next contending team on the South Side. But with a lot of significant injuries this year perhaps having an effect on when all those highly rated prospects will finally arrive in the majors — not to mention the disappointing win-loss numbers the big league team has put up this season — perhaps it would make more sense to acquire some rebuild-bolstering pieces.

Of course, it all depends on if there are any deals to be made. Do other teams' front offices like what they've seen from Garcia in this short stretch as much as White Sox fans have? We'll know by the time August rolls around.