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Friday, April 11, 2014
Sox's Abreu off to a Puig-like start

By Doug Padilla

Jose Abreu
Jose Abreu has impressed with his approach at the plate and tremendous power through 10 games.
CHICAGO -- It didn't take long for Puig-mania to surface in Los Angeles, and less than a year later, another sensation appears ready to take hold.

Jose Abreu is the latest Cuban baseball prodigy to burst onto the scene, with a 10-game start for the Chicago White Sox that suggests he, too, will be the subject of more T-shirt options in the souvenir stands, curtain calls and signs in the crowd asking for his hand in marriage.

The Los Angeles Dodgers' Yasiel Puig did have the benefit of the L.A. market on his side, with its huge television following and crowds at least four times what the White Sox are drawing now, but if his current production keeps up, Abreu is sure to inspire a spike in attendance all by himself.

Yasiel Puig
Yasiel Puig took baseball by storm when he was called up to the Dodgers in June.
If the ticket-buying public is slow to take notice, the rest of baseball is already on board. In the opening series of the season, Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire ordered Abreu to be intentionally walked twice in the same game. In Colorado earlier this week, the Rockies lamented the fact that they finished second in the offseason Abreu contract bidding, realizing that a few more millions would have been a bargain. As for the division-rival Cleveland Indians, they got two Abreu home runs shoved down their throat Thursday night.

It's far too early to suggest that Abreu will have his way with American League pitching, but his approach certainly will give him a chance. A patient hitter, Abreu will crush inside pitches, but still has the ability to take offerings on the outside part of the plate to the opposite field. His walk rate isn't high, but his strikeouts are low and putting the ball in play with his strength will limit the range of fielders.

"It's rare I think that you get guys with his kind of power that have enough discipline to be able to go the other way and stay in it," manager Robin Ventura said after Thursday's game.

Where Puig is often exciting and unpredictable, Abreu is the complete opposite with a measured, focused approach. Abreu doesn't run like Puig or have his arm strength, but as a first baseman, that part of his game is less of an issue.

It's their comparisons at the plate that are most relevant. In his first 10 games with the Dodgers last June, Puig batted a robust .486 with a .514 on-base percentage and an .886 slugging percentage. Abreu comes in under that after 10 games with a .300 batting average, .383 OBP and a .725 slugging percentage.

But Abreu has slight advantage in run-producing numbers. Both players had four home runs after 10 games, but Puig had 10 RBIs to Abreu's 14. Puig struck out six times with one walk, while Abreu has five strikeouts and three walks. Abreu also has a 7-6 advantage in runs scored and an 8-6 advantage in extra-base hits.

Asking Abreu to turn around his team's fortunes and push it toward the playoffs as Puig did is something else entirely, though. The White Sox don't have as much experienced talent on hand as the Dodgers did a year ago, and that's where Abreu-mania might not draw as much momentum as the stir created by his countryman.

But after a 2013 season when the White Sox were unwatchable, Abreu is giving reason to take notice. His at-bats are turning into must-see events, and teammates such as John Danks and Chris Sale have remarked how fun it is to be a member of the White Sox again.

Sure, the White Sox aren't even 1/16th of the way into the new schedule, but having something to anticipate, like an Abreu at-bat, is never a bad thing.

Now if only this new sensation had a name. Abreu-mania is too copycat, Abreu-palooza figures to run into copyright issues and Abreu-fest suggests a short-lived happening. HULLABREU, anybody?