Abreu adjusting to Major Leagues, new country
Cuban first baseman has backed off workout plan while hitting over .300 this spring
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Jose Abreu looked up from his locker in the clubhouse at Camelback Ranch with a puzzled expression on his face and glanced at the bulletin board.
"Hey, do you know what color we are wearing today?" Abreu asked a group of teammates in English.
"Black, Jose. Black jerseys," one of them responded.
"Gracias, brother, gracias," Abreu answered.
The White Sox first baseman says he has been working hard at adjusting to all parts of life in the United States --from learning a new language to understanding the nuances of the sport -- since he arrived in Arizona for Spring Training almost seven weeks ago. Abreu is succeeding in Cactus League play by keeping an open mind and that's not something that he intends to change.
"The baseball is not exactly what I thought it would be. I've never played at this level and I expected it to be really, really difficult," Abreu, 27, said in Spanish. "I knew it wasn't going to be impossible, but the coaches and teammates here have really helped me and made it easier. I feel like I can handle it."
Abreu appears to be adjusting quickly. On Wednesday, he struck out on a check swing in the first inning against the Angels and then hit a two-run home run on the first pitch he saw from starter Tyler Skaggs in the third.
Later, Abreu lined a 0-2 pitch from Angels pitching prospect Cam Bedrosian to right field for a single in the fifth inning, He drove in another run with a single up the middle in the seventh inning for his third hit of the game.
"Every day is something new for him, seeing new pitchers, so he continues to improve," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "The more guys he sees, he's able to adjust and they are adjusting to him, too. People are throwing him inside and he's able to adjust."
Overall, Abreu is hitting .308 (12-for-39) with two home runs and nine RBIs. He has struck out six times and walked once in Cactus League play.
"The pitchers have more velocity and more control, but you adjust to them," Abreu said. "This is a game of adjustments and that might be the hardest part. That's why it's important you have a clear head and understand what you are doing at the plate and what they are trying to do to you."
It's no surprise to hear that Abreu considers himself a student of the game. He has also already built a strong reputation for his solid work ethic. In fact, the slugger's intense workouts and long hours at camp have been tempered by the White Sox staff.
He calls the change in workouts "another adjustment."
"They've corrected me a little bit," Abreu said with a smile. "For me, it's Spring Training and the season is coming with games so I wanted to be ready, but I understand what they are saying. There are a lot of games and they don't want me to overdo it. It's part of the game that I'm learning here."
Abreu believes his strenuous workouts could have contributed to the sore ankles that bothered him earlier this month. He taped his ankles when he played in Cuba and has started taking similar precautionary measures recently.
"It was one of those things that happens when you train," Abreu said. "I had some treatment and it's all better now. It's not a problem. I'm fine."
It's already been quite a year for Abreu.
Abreu and his wife, Yusmary, are believed to have left Cuba some time last summer and made their way to Haiti to begin the process of becoming eligible to sign with a Major League club. He was courted by several teams and eventually signed a six-year, $68 million deal with the White Sox in October.
Abreu's mother, father, sister and brother-in-law are expected to join him some time this year. Life without his family might be the most difficult adjustment of all for the first baseman.
"Only God knows what the plan is for all of us, but I have faith we will be fine," Abreu said. "I feel like I'm getting closer to where I can be for Opening Day. We have more time and I can improve some more."