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5 for '15: Can Abreu match his rookie success?

4/3/2015

Like a 7-footer who can play basketball on the perimeter, a hybrid sports car or even cold soup, Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu knows how to marry opposite ends of the spectrum.

Last year's American League Rookie of the Year is unanimously known as a home run threat, but when his power chips are down, Abreu still has options.

Because of his versatility as a hitter, the expectation is that Abreu should be able to post numbers similar to his output last season, a lofty prediction because he became the first rookie in baseball history to finish in the top five of all three Triple Crown categories.

His .317 batting average in 2014 was fifth-best in the American League. His 107 RBIs were fourth-best, and his 36 home runs were third-best.

But where Abreu's artistry really came through last season was when his power numbers waned. Looking tired while playing in his first 162-game season, Abreu could manage only seven home runs after the All-Star break and just five in the 51 games he played over the final two months.

But that didn't mean he was no longer helping the cause.

In what might have actually been a combination of exhaustion and pitchers no longer willing to challenge him out over the plate, Abreu simply flicked pitches off the corners and became a singles machine.

Abreu had only 13 extra-base hits in August and September but still managed to deliver 50 singles in that time frame, when he batted .341 with a .433 on-base percentage. Both numbers were well above his full-season totals.

Obviously, Abreu is being counted on for more than just singles, but the beauty of his approach is that his lean power times seem to result in bloopers and flares for singles into shallow right field instead of 2-for-45 droughts.

That's not to say Abreu is immune from struggles. He had one hit over a seven-game stretch in April, but never seemed to tail off to that extreme again. Yes, pitchers have more scouting reports on Abreu, but he seems to be gaining knowledge on the league just as fast.

"I'm working just to be better in all aspects of the game," Abreu said through an interpreter early in the spring. "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. Be the same way as a person as you are as a player."

Once again this spring, Abreu is showing more plate coverage than power. With one more single in three at-bats during Thursday's Cactus League finale, Abreu left Arizona with a robust .508 batting average.

His 30 spring hits in 59 at-bats came with just seven extra-base hits: five doubles, a triple and a lone home run. That means he still has just eight home runs in a White Sox uniform, exhibitions included, since he suited up for the July All-Star Game in Minneapolis.

Yet nobody with the White Sox is the least bit worried. Abreu has even acknowledged the power drought but isn't too worried after playing 19 practice games under the blazing desert sun.

"That's the plan, to come to spring training and start the season hot," Abreu said last week. "Right now, I am very glad about what my results are, and I think I can keep the momentum into the season. I'm ready for the season. I am anxious and tired because the sun is so hot here."

With another season like the one he delivered last year, Abreu can move from the front yard to the front porch of the house that inhabits the game's top repeat performers, such as Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols. It comes as no surprise that Abreu lists both those names when asked for the hitters he likes to watch most in the game.

And showing he's a glass-half-full type, Abreu is taking his spring numbers in stride now that he sits on the cusp of a new season.

"I am feeling good," he said last week. "Obviously, I'm a little anxious also because I want to hit home runs as well. But if God is saving that for the season, it's good for me. I'm just trying to get ready for the season and do my job."