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With Frazier behind him, Abreu poised for big year

March 22, 2016

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Jose Abreu won't complain.He says he wasn't pitched around much in his first two seasons in Major League Baseball. Instead, he praises Adam Dunn because "his career track was good'' and says Adam LaRoche did his best to help him even though "it was kind of a

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Jose Abreu won't complain.
He says he wasn't pitched around much in his first two seasons in Major League Baseball. Instead, he praises Adam Dunn because "his career track was good'' and says Adam LaRoche did his best to help him even though "it was kind of a down year for him because he wasn't accustomed to being a DH.''
And he says all of this with a straight face.
When I tell him he is being very respectful, he laughs and breaks into a beautiful smile.
"That's how my mom and dad raised me,'' Abreu said, speaking through translator Billy Russo.
Back in Cuba, where Abreu's heart was as he thought about the visit of the Rays and President Obama to his homeland, Abreu also learned to be one of the best hitters on the planet. He has been that for the White Sox, but how much damage could he have done had pitchers been forced to challenge him?
We're about to find out.
In one of the more impactful moves by any team in the offseason, the White Sox traded three prospects to get All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier from the Reds. Frazier, who just turned 30, is coming off a season in which he hit a career-high 35 home runs and has generated a 9.3 WAR over the past two seasons, matching Abreu's totals (5.5 in 2014, 3.8 in '15).
"I'm very excited to see how this year goes with Frazier behind me,'' said Abreu, who had a run-scoring double to the base of the left-field wall in the White Sox's 8-7 victory Tuesday over the Giants."He is an outstanding player, a very good hitter. We have been talking a lot about what we can do during the season. We just have to wait until the season to see.''
Despite Abreu's second consecutive season of 30-plus homers and 100-plus RBIs, the White Sox were last in the American League in runs and home runs last season. But the reconstructed lineup, which features newcomers Frazier, Brett Lawrie, Austin Jackson, Jimmy Rollins and the catching tandem of Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro, could help the White Sox make a jump like the Astros did last season, scoring 100 more runs to jump from 14th in the AL in scoring to fifth.
With the rotation headed by Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon (and Carson Fulmer almost ready to step in), Robin Ventura's team will be in business if that happens.
For the transformed lineup to have the maximum impact, the Sox need leadoff man Adam Eaton to have a wire-to-wire performance like the one he put together after a dreadful start last season.
Eaton contributed heavily to the White Sox being one of baseball's early disappointments. He was hitting .186 with a .248 on-base percentage and no home runs or RBIs in his first 105 plate appearances, but he wound up with a .382 OBP, .846 OPS and 14 home runs in his last 129 games.
That's the guy the Sox need this season.
"It's hard to dissect (last season),'' Eaton said. "I try to look at the grand scheme of things. I look at it as a completion of a season, a season I'm happy with personally.''
There's a different vibe to the White Sox with Frazier in the middle of things. The unofficial king of the New Jersey shore, Frazier is a guy who loves life and still looks at baseball like he's playing for the Toms River team he carried to a Little League World Series title.
"Personalities in the clubhouse have really changed a lot,'' Eaton said. "I think that's what we needed -- a personality change, a different way to look at the game. I think it's going to benefit us in the long run, in June and July when crap hits the fan.''
Frazier's impact on the clubhouse could prove especially important for players who acted like they'd been sucker-punched when LaRoche retired after being asked to limit his son's presence.
"He's always in a good mood,'' Abreu said of Frazier. "When he's in a room, he's shining. His personality is so big. He's always happy, always having fun. He's trying to keep everybody loose. That's good. He has experience on winning teams and knows what we have to do to win.''
The White Sox lost 99 games in 2013 but weren't ready to rebuild, not with Sale and Quintana in the rotation. Instead they won a bidding war for Abreu, a slugger with plate discipline who was fresh off showcasing his ability with three homers and nine RBIs in six games in the World Baseball Classic.
Abreu has delivered on his end of a six-year, $68 million contract, but the White Sox won only 73 games in 2014 and 76 in '15, even though they imported David Robertson, Melky Cabrera, Jeff Samardzija and LaRoche along the way. Abreu has remained calm on the field and patient with his team even as pitchers have worked him on the outskirts of the strike zone.
Often swinging at so-called pitcher's pitches, near his ankles or outside the plate, Abreu has remained productive. He was Rookie of the Year and fourth in MVP voting two seasons ago, when he hit .317 with 36 homers and a league-leading .581 slugging percentage.
Those are tough numbers to top, but he's a good bet to do that this season, thanks to having another quality run producer in his prime hitting behind him.
"What [Abreu has] done, the offense we did have, is impressive as it is,'' Ventura said. "But now he's getting some protection. I think that's just going to help him. I feel like he got pitched around most of the time, but he was able to survive it, somehow end up with impressive numbers. It would make sense that something special would happen with him if we can put some runs on the board, especially with Todd behind him.''
Abreu won't say it himself, but Ventura is right. With Frazier hitting behind him, take the over.

Phil Rogers is a national columnist for