Abreu stands out among AL ROY candidates
Cuban slugger would be first White Sox winner since 1985
CHICAGO -- Where would the White Sox be without Jose Abreu? Better yet, what would the South Siders' immediate future look like without one of the three finalists for the Baseball Writers' Association of America's Jackie Robinson American League Rookie of the Year Award?
Angels starting pitcher Matt Shoemaker and Yankees setup man Dellin Betances join the White Sox first baseman as worthy candidates for this particular honor, which will be handed out Monday at 5 p.m. CT live on MLB Network and MLB.com. Shoemaker posted a 14-3 record (16-4 overall) and 2.89 ERA over 20 starts as part of the AL West champions' rotation, while Betances emerged as one of the game's best setup men with an astounding 135 strikeouts in 90 innings, to go with a 1.40 ERA and 22 holds.
But with all due respect to this talented mound duo, Abreu quickly emerged as one of MLB's top players who just happened to be a rookie. He already has won an AL Silver Slugger Award at first base, and he has been selected top AL rookie by his peers in awards announced by Sporting News and the Players Choice. Monday's voting results figure to be no different for the 27-year-old from Cuba, who not only had to adjust to a higher level of baseball but also living in a new country where he didn't speak the language fluently.
Abreu hit .317 with 176 hits, 35 doubles, 36 home runs, 107 RBIs, a .581 slugging percentage and a .383 on-base percentage over 145 games during the 2014 campaign. His 36 homers set a new single-season rookie franchise record, beating out Ron Kittle's 35 from 1983, after Abreu agreed to a six-year, $68 million deal with the White Sox.
Video: Finalists revealed for '14 AL Rookie of the Year
His slugging percentage led the Majors, as Abreu joined Dick Allen (1974) as the only players in White Sox history to accomplish that feat. He ranked among AL leaders with his .964 OPS (second), his 323 total bases (second) and his 73 extra-base hits (fourth), as well as with his homers (tied for third), RBIs (fourth), average (fifth), OBP (fifth) and doubles (T-10th). Abreu became the first rookie in baseball history to rank among the top five in his league in each Triple Crown category and joined Hal Trosky (1934), Ted Williams (1939) and Albert Pujols (2001) as the only rookies to record at least 30 doubles, 30 homers and 100 RBIs in a season.
Those 107 RBIs represented the third-highest total all-time by a White Sox rookie, trailing Smead Jolley (114 in 1930) and Zeke Bonura (110 in 1934). Abreu topped all AL rookies in hits, doubles, homers, RBIs, OBP, slugging and OPS, falling second to Minnesota's Danny Santana (.319) in rookie average.
The White Sox finished with a 73-89 record, which marked a 10-game increase from 2013. Even with Abreu contributing mightily to that improvement, he was not listed with Mike Trout, Victor Martinez and Michael Brantley among the final three for AL Most Valuable Player. Robin Ventura, Abreu's manager, felt he was deserving of that consideration.
"When you think of an MVP, you're just looking at his body of work," said Ventura of Abreu during a late-season interview. "I know there are other factors that go into it, but he deserves to be up there just by the year he's had and what he's meant to our team as well. Throughout the league, he's done some things that nobody else has done."
"He's a good one," said Ron Gardenhire, who got a close look at Abreu during his final year as Twins manager. "The kid can really hit. He's got a great set of hands, very quick at the plate and very strong."
Video: Jose Abreu reflects on rookie season, looks to future
One major point proven by Abreu during this inaugural season was that he is a talented hitter, who also happens to have immense power. White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson was asked in early July about the potential of Abreu hitting .300, but sort of balked at the notion to not add any extra pressure to a player who would be selected to the AL All-Star team, win AL Player of the Month in April and July and win AL Rookie of the Month in April, June and July.
Although his power numbers declined under the strain of his first 162-game season, with just two long balls in August and three in September, Abreu hit .374 in July, .376 in August and .298 in the season's final month. He proved to be a tireless and smart worker, sticking to a steady, daily routine that began when he got up in the morning, and included Abreu's midseason request to hit in the third group during batting practice to take his swings closer to game time.
Putting Abreu at the center of the lineup stands as a key point in the White Sox reshaping process, joining Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Adam Eaton and Avisail Garcia in forming a solid core. His age and 10 years of previous experience for Cienfuegos in Cuba might be the only small factors weighing against Abreu's near-certain chances in becoming the White Sox first Rookie of the Year since Ozzie Guillen in 1985.