Sox fueled by Abreu's debut, Vaughn's HR
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The first inning of Tuesday’s 5-5 tie with the Rangers at Camelback Ranch provided a brief but fairly representative snapshot of the powerful White Sox offense.
Yoán Moncada was hit by a 3-2 pitch from Kohei Arihara after falling behind, 0-2, in the count. José Abreu, making his first 2021 Cactus League appearance, lined a two-strike single to left, and Andrew Vaughn launched a three-run home run to the back of the left-field berm.
In the regular season, the team’s No. 1 prospect and projected rookie designated hitter won’t be hitting third -- at least not at the outset. But his power potential, coupled with his advanced approach at the plate, makes an already deep attack even deeper.
“I don't have any doubt in my mind that he's ready to play in the Majors,” Abreu said of Vaughn through interpreter Billy Russo. “I've been impressed with him since I saw him last summer in Summer Camp. When I saw him there, just the way that he worked, just the way that he handled himself, I was impressed. He had a lot of talent.”
“He has no fear,” White Sox hitting coach Frank Menechino said of Vaughn. “He has his own approach. He knows what works, and it’s just going to be getting reps up here. And I don’t doubt he’ll be able to make adjustments.”
Tim Anderson joined Moncada, Abreu and Vaughn as the projected Opening Day starters in Tuesday’s lineup, with catcher Jonathan Lucroy and second baseman Leury García also playing against the Rangers and expected to be in Anaheim with the team on April 1. The White Sox topped the American League with 96 home runs during the 2020 season and ranked second behind the Yankees with 306 runs scored, but Vaughn isn’t the only important change going into ’21.
Moncada dealt with the after-effects of COVID-19 throughout ’20 after testing positive during the Summer Camp intake process. The fully healthy switch-hitter already looks back to his 2019 standout self, according to Menechino.
“His timing is still Spring Training timing, but he looks way better,” Menechino said. “This guy looks like he’s ready to go. He cleaned up some stuff with his hitting, stuff that he couldn’t figure out last year. He worked really hard this offseason. He should be fine.”
Luis Robert was considered an AL MVP candidate through August last season, only to finish September in an 11-for-81 funk. But the five-tool talent, who is just 23 years old, bounced back against Oakland in the AL Wild Card Series, including a 487-foot homer in the deciding Game 3.
Robert worked diligently in the offseason and made adjustments in his setup and pitch recognition.
“He’s taking a lot more balls right now, even in flips,” Menechino said. “So, he’s really got his setup and approach working.”
As for Abreu, the actual AL MVP in 2020, he knocked out two hits Tuesday including a double in the fifth to bring home Moncada. Abreu has been No. 1 in the AL in RBIs the past two seasons, but he seems to be getting better as a hitter as he moves into his eighth year in Chicago. Abreu’s support system has become a special reason for that increase in excellence.
“Just knowing that I’m carrying on my shoulders the responsibility of my family,” Abreu said. “I carry on my shoulders to represent this team and my teammates. That’s enough for me to push myself to do better every year, to motivate myself.”
“His approach. His confidence. His plan. His knowing what works for him,” Menechino said of Abreu. “When you got a guy like that, he knows what it takes to get ready. He knows what he has to do.”
This White Sox offense also includes a batting champion in Anderson, a switch-hitting catcher with on-base potential and power in Yasmani Grandal, a candidate for the home run title in Eloy Jiménez, a .300 hitter with elite bat-to-ball skills in Nick Madrigal, and the return of a solid left-handed hitter in Adam Eaton. There will be highs and lows with this group, especially with so much young talent, but there doesn’t seem to be a true weak spot from 1 through 9.
Don’t try to sell that point to Abreu, who wants his team to take nothing for granted.
“We can’t be overconfident about what we have here,” Abreu said. “We have a very good team. But we know that we have to work hard because outside, there are 29 teams that are going to try to beat us. We have to be as good as we can to beat them. We want to be confident. We can have that confidence in the offseason.
“During the season, starting right now, we have to work hard to do the best that we can do and to perform. That’s what matters for us. We can’t be overconfident.”