CHICAGO -- The Chicago White Sox learned Sunday that they will have a pair of first-time All-Stars and potentially a third, if one final round of voting goes their way.
First baseman Jose Abreu and shortstop Alexei Ramirez were named to the American League All-Star team, with each selected by fellow players. Left-hander Chris Sale is among five players vying for the final roster spot via a fan vote that will take place on mlb.com between now and Thursday.
Abreu’s selection for the game, to be played July 15 at Target Field in Minneapolis, was easy. The 27-year-old rookie has taken major league baseball by storm with 27 home runs, 69 RBIs and a Major League Baseball-leading .616 slugging percentage through Sunday.
After Abreu defected from Cuba last year, the White Sox won his rights by signing him to a six-year, $68 million deal over the winter. It has been worth every penny, as there has been little to no learning curve for the power hitter to adjust to the major league level.
“The first thing I have to do is thank the people here in Chicago and thank the people that have helped me get used to playing baseball here in the United States and in the big leagues,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “The list is long ... I can’t thank them enough. I also want to thank the players and the people that selected Alexei and me to go to the All-Star Game. It really is an honor. I can’t tell you how happy I am.”
Ramirez’s spot on the team wasn’t so certain. Through two months of the season, Ramirez looked to be an All-Star lock, but the past five weeks have been a struggle. Ramirez entered Sunday’s game with a .215 batting average and a .246 slugging percentage since June 1.
But his peers felt he had done enough to earn a first-time nod.
“First thing I am is appreciative to the White Sox and the organization for giving me the opportunity to play and giving me the confidence and allowing me to do what I’ve done,” Ramirez said. “These past seven years have been tremendous. I just can’t help but appreciate the opportunity I’ve been given by the organization.”
Ramirez’s career started in impressive fashion in 2008, when he batted .290 with 21 home runs and 77 RBIs in 136 games. But he struggled to meet that standard in subsequent seasons, with his most disappointing year coming in 2013, when he was dealing with some personal issues.
That’s all behind him now, as the notoriously slow starter sprinted out of the gates this season.
“First and foremost, going into any season, my goal is to be healthy and to be in the best shape I can possibly be,” Ramirez said. “I worked hard this offseason in Miami. I worked hard to prepare myself for this season, and that’s all one can hope for. Being given the opportunity, being given the confidence by the team, if you work hard and put in the work in the offseason, things like this pay off.”
Perhaps it’s only fitting that a team with a strong Cuban influence will send two of its Cuban-born players to the All-Star Game.
“It really is a gift from God to be able to have the privilege to play in the All-Star Game,” Abreu said. “Everyone knows the type of player and person that Alexei is, and Alexei has helped me a lot since I’ve arrived, but it really makes me happy to be going to the game with him.”
Sale could end up joining them, particularly if past form holds true. The White Sox have been able to get two players -- A.J. Pierzynski and Paul Konerko -- in the game through the final-vote process, and the team has already started its marketing of Sale.
They are set to unveil their “Target Sale” campaign, which is actually a “#targetsale” campaign aimed at social-media users. The “Target” part is in reference to Target Field, site of the All-Star Game. Other successful campaigns in the past had the slogans of “Punch A.J.” and “Paul-Star.”
At 8-1 with a 2.16 ERA (second among AL starters), Sale might not need much of a marketing push to win the vote. Even though he still has one more hill to climb before getting his roster spot in Minnesota, Sale is appreciative of the recognition.
“I mean, any time, it's an honor really to go, but to even be thought of as going is still an honor,” said Sale, who promised he won’t be voting for himself online this week. “I appreciate being able to go through this process. Hopefully, we pull it out.”
Sale had better not make alternate All-Star break plans. After all, the White Sox have a marketing team that got Pierzynski -- with his popularity issues -- through the final vote.
“What's that supposed to mean?” Sale said with a smile. “I'd say we got the right guys behind the scenes doing the work. But I think we're just going to have a good time with this and see how it plays out, and hopefully we'll pull it through.”