Abreu trying to reach postseason, not duplicate rookie season
Cuban slugger enters second season in Chicago
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The back of Jose Abreu's baseball card lists 2014 as his rookie campaign with the White Sox and within Major League Baseball. It took very little time for Abreu's teammates and his opponents, for that matter, to realize he was not a run-of-the-mill first-year player.
"By the end of Spring Training, none of us were really considering him a rookie, other than Rookie of the Year," said White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers. "He really never looked overmatched.
"He never looked frustrated. He continued to work hard for the whole season. He continued to work with his routine. He did the kind of things we all wish we could do and hope we do consistently."
But that was 2014, when Abreu won the American League Rookie of the Year by setting the franchise record for homers by a rookie (36) and leading the Majors in slugging percentage (.581) among other gaudy statistics. In this "What have you done for me lately?" society, Abreu met with the media for more than 20 minutes Monday at Camelback Ranch and was asked about following up this impressive debut.
There were no promises made by the 28-year-old standout, who looks lean and already has been working with a purpose before Tuesday's first official full-squad workout. But nobody seemed worried about Abreu matching his .317 average and 107 RBIs from last season, including Abreu himself.
To be successful, the White Sox certainly need Abreu to produce. As Abreu said at the end of '14 and told MLB.com during the offseason, his goals aren't statistics-based as much as being fueled by a desire to reach the postseason.
"I cannot say that I will put up the same numbers or be better," said Abreu through translator and White Sox Spanish-language broadcaster Billy Russo. "I just can say that I will try to do the best every day to help the team win games.
"If the numbers are the same as last year, it's good for me. But my main focus right now is to try to be the best player possible and help the team. [The front office] gave us the opportunity to be better this year and to compete this year. That is the most important thing for us in baseball."
Abreu was physically beat up by the end of the '14 season, playing through his first 162-game schedule. To his credit and as a credit to his ability and focus, Abreu hit .374 in July, .376 in August and .298 in September despite his power numbers dropping to five homers over the last two months.
While the special sound of Abreu's bat hitting baseballs can be heard every day in the batting cages, he has slightly dialed back his intense workload at the outset.
"I'm trying to be in the best shape possible for the season, but not just for the beginning, for the whole season. I want to play more than just  games," said Abreu, adding he came to Spring Training a little fresher. "I know that I have to save my bullets or save my energy for the long season and not just to throw out in the first weeks."
"Some guys have a routine that they like to use," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura. "[Abreu] likes to work. He likes to get in there and he likes to take a lot of swings."
One noticeable change for Abreu stands as his improved grasp of English, although Abreu claims with a smile it's still not good. Then again, Abreu doesn't necessarily need a translator or really need to speak to be a leader. He's the type of player others study and follow, with an example standing as his work toward better communicating with his teammates.
"What kind of guy does that? A leader who is cognizant of the situation, trying to make himself even more so," Flowers said. "I really think his leadership is more by example, watching people physically do things the right way, the way they carry themselves. That does more than any words could do."