Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Abreu: 'Expectations for me are clear'
By Doug Padilla
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Replacing a legend like Paul Konerko at first base won't come easy, so Jose Abreu is making sure he is doing everything he can to make the transition as smooth as possible.
New Sox first baseman Jose Abreu has earned praise from teammates for his work ethic.
First and foremost, the Chicago White Sox's biggest offseason acquisition is going above and beyond to put in the work necessary for success as he adapts to a new country from his native Cuba.
He participated in a hitting camp in January and begged for extra at-bats. Then he arrived for spring training two weeks before the rest of the position players to get in more preparation.
Gordon Beckham arrived to camp Monday and observed that Abreu was already putting in four-hour stints in the batting cage. Adam Eaton, who has taken advantage of his residence in Scottsdale to also arrive to camp early, said that Abreu's determination oozes in his body language.
"Expectations for me are clear, but I have to prepare," Abreu said Tuesday through an interpreter. "That's all I control for now is preparation. That's what I'm doing right now."
Everything Abreu has done since signing with the White Sox has been focused and precise. The White Sox can only hope that the route Abreu takes can lead to the same place as that of countryman Yasiel Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers, especially when looking at Puig's dynamic debut last season when he seemed to single-handedly turn around his team's fortunes.
Along with Puig, the Oakland Athletics' Yoenis Cespedes needed little to no learning curve upon his arrival, finishing second in the 2012 American League Rookie of the Year voting to the Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout. Yet Abreu doesn't see the performances of Cespedes and Puig as a high standard that he must live up to.
"They're a great source of inspiration for me what they have been able to do," Abreu said. "I see it as that. I don't see it as, 'Hey, I have to do what they have done.' It's more like, 'It's great they have done that and it's an inspiration for me.'"
Abreu has plenty of time to show what he can do as a hitter. What the 26-year-old has already revealed is a maturity beyond his years.
"He has a great work ethic," Eaton said of the limited exposure he has had with Abreu in the past two months. "He really works his tail off. He's very quiet, but he's passionate about the game. [Taking] ground balls, anything he can do, you can see it in his body language. If he doesn't do something right, he goes after it again and learns from it. He works his butt off in the cage. I'm excited to work with him."
As for taking over at first base for Konerko -- unseating the team captain, no less -- Abreu won't take anything for granted.
"Expectations for me are clear, but I have to prepare," he said. "That's all I control for now is preparation. That's what I'm doing right now."
He even deflects all the attention he is getting, suggesting that it can all go away just as easy as it arrived.
"I'm thankful for the attention but for me, that's a source of motivation to be able to perform and prepare better so it's a good source of motivation," Abreu said.
Konerko and Abreu only met briefly during that hitting camp in January, but Abreu seems anxious to get together again. Konerko is expected in camp Thursday when position players are required to report.
"I'm very thankful to have somebody like him," Abreu said. "I want to learn a lot from him because he has had a great career, he has had great success, and I have nothing but respect for him. I'm just happy to have access to somebody like that."
Asked about his interests outside of baseball, Abreu revealed that his job is essentially his hobby as well.
"I'm a homebody," Abreu said. "I love to spend time with my family. One of the things I love to do is watch video of good old players who have done a lot of good things in baseball. ... There are a lot of names but [Josh] Hamilton, [Miguel] Cabrera."
It starts to sound too good to be true. At this point, the White Sox's chief concern must be that Abreu figures out how to pace himself for the long season. Dialing him back will be far easier to do than to convince somebody to have motivation, so in that sense it's a good problem to have.
And if his work days aren't long enough, Abreu said he is taking daily English lessons and hopes to one day do his interviews in a second language. First things first, though, Abreu wants his swing to be ready to go, not just for Opening Day, but also for the start of the Cactus League schedule at the tail-end of the month.
"Right now I'm thinking of preparing for the 28th when the games start," he said. "I'm working on little things, being able to hit the ball the other way, the way I pulls my hands through. I'm not concerned with hitting home runs at all. I'm working my swing. It's a process. It takes a little while but as I keep getting there I know I'll be ready."