Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu appears to be a significant building block for the Chicago White Sox.
In 2013, the 27-year-old Abreu was signed as an international free agent. He had played for the Cuban National Series, the primary amateur baseball competition in Cuba. In 2010-11, Abreu won the league's home run title and Most Valuable Player Award. Major League scouts saw a great deal of him during international competition.
In the past, bursitis in his shoulder has caused Abreu to miss games. However, he looks very healthy and ready to begin the next chapter of his career.
I was fortunate to see a number of Abreu's at-bats during Spring Training. He was more polished and advanced than I had imagined. Abreu looks very confident at the plate hitting any type pitch. His plate discipline and pitch recognition are advanced. To date, Abreu doesn't appear to be unsettled, rattled or overwhelmed by breaking balls.
Abreu is a right-handed hitter with extensive power. At 6-foot-3, 255 pounds, he can hit some massive home runs by using his strong hands and lower body to generate his power.
Abreu sets up close to the plate and has been a target of inside pitches, having been hit by pitches consistently in his Cuban baseball career. His outstanding baseball instincts provide a foundation for his success. Abreu knows the nuances of the game and hitting comes naturally to him. Once he learns the Major League pitchers, he'll be even more comfortable.
Abreu doesn't show the best bat speed in the game, but his power is enough to offset any lack of quickness in getting his hands through the ball. If he sees the pitch well, he has no problem using the entire field and taking the pitch where it is thrown. Abreu keeps his swing simple and uncomplicated, letting his muscular forearms and hands guide the ball.
Abreu isn't tremendously athletic. In fact, his reaction time and reflexes at first base are goals and targets for improvement. That said, Abreu will be able to perform his defensive role just fine. In my opinion, he doesn't really profile to play any other defensive position. First base should be Abreu's home for years to come. He may be a designated hitter in the future as well.
Two major tools highlight Abreu's skill set. He can hit for average and he can hit for power. Abreu doesn't run well and he doesn't have a strong arm. However, what he lacks in those areas, he makes up for in offensive firepower.
This past spring during his introduction to the Majors in the Cactus League, Abreu hit .286 in 17 games covering 57 plate appearances. He had two doubles and three home runs among his 16 hits. Abreu struck out 10 times and walked only once.
Abreu was a magnet for fans in the same Spring Training park that fellow Cuban player Yasiel Puig excelled in the previous spring. Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz., has now hosted two sparkling Cuban players in consecutive springs.
The White Sox have a rich history regarding players from Cuba. One of the best outfielders of the 1950s and consistent career All-Star, Orestes "Minnie" Minoso carries the nickname of the "Cuban Comet." The White Sox roster today features Dayan Viciedo, Alexei Ramirez and Adrian Nieto, Cuban players who will provide some comfort, familiarity and assistance for Abreu's transition. Nieto is a catcher on the roster.
Another built-in support for Abreu will be the presence of veteran first basemen Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn. Both can assist in helping him adjust to the position in his new environment and new league.
I was so impressed with Abreu's spring that I think he will be a major contender for the American League Rookie of the Year Award. He may even win the prestigious award.
For many years to come, blasts generated from the big bat of Abreu should set off the home run scoreboard at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. In fact, his presence may even elicit comparisons to another powerful White Sox first baseman -- newly elected Hall of Famer Frank Thomas.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter.