Strength equals success for Jose Abreu


GLENDALE, Ariz. -- There was no bigger topic of conversation than Jose Abreu on Monday, the day before Chicago White Sox position players reported to spring training.

The reigning American League rookie of the year reported to camp early, providing yet another display of his powerful work ethic. The question now is whether or not he will be less of a hard worker off the field in order to keep up his stamina for a full season.

Abreu crushed 38 home runs with 107 RBIs in 2014, but only five of those home runs came in the final two months, with only eight RBIs coming over the season's final 30 days.

"Yeah, after last season, I realized that maybe I have to work a lot before the start of the season," Abreu said through an interpreter. "And before spring training, I took a rest. I came in fresher. I know that I have to save my bullets, or save my energy, for the long season and not just to throw it all out there in the first weeks. I try to save my energies for a long season. I'm here just at 80 percent right now."

A dreaded sophomore slump could cut into Abreu's numbers. There are far more scouting reports and video on him than there were at this point last season.

But Abreu is such a disciplined hitter that he looks to have figured out the secrets of avoiding long slumps. His plate coverage is as good as it gets on this level, and his ability to drive the ball to all fields means there is less of a chance he ties himself up by looking for pitches in one specific area.

A return to his 2014 numbers -- .317 batting average, .383 on-base percentage and .581 slugging percentage -- would be more than adequate, while one line of thinking suggests those numbers could be even better if Abreu's body holds up better this season.

"I'm working just to be better in all aspects of the game," Abreu said. "I really don't think about one specific thing to be better. I want to be good all-around and in all aspects of my game. I try to be the best person possible that I could be. Improve as a person, and a player."

The addition of Adam LaRoche this offseason could help Abreu stay stronger deeper into the season. LaRoche comes highly regarded on defense and could ultimately spell Abreu at first base more than Paul Konerko or Adam Dunn did last season, but at the outset the plan is for Abreu to play first base most of the time.

Manager Robin Ventura was asked what he learned last season about using Abreu.

"I like to use him a lot, that's what I learned about that," Ventura said. "He's a great player, a great kid, leader, all those things. You want to use him as much as possible, but there's also diminishing returns when you start doing that.

"I think there's communication that's there. I have a feel for him and I have a pretty good understanding of where we're going and what we want. In the end, he's better on the field. It's hard not to have him in there but there are days when he shouldn't play."

As for lower leg issues last season, including an ankle issue that landed him on the disabled list, all Abreu knows is that he is healthy now.

"I've been working on it," Abreu said. "It's something I have to reinforce or strengthen, but right now I feel good and I'm happy with my condition."

If there are any goals he wants to accomplish during the season, Abreu isn't saying. He is just keeping it day-to-day for the time being.

"Tomorrow will be the first day of camp when we will be together, and that will be the beginning for us to try to build the team chemistry to compete for the season," he said when asked what the team expectations are this year. "I think the key for the season is to be together, play hard, think that we are capable of competing with the best teams out there."