Over the last few years, we’ve bore witness as several Cuban defectors have taken the Major Leagues by storm.
Aroldis Chapman, the Cuban Missile blessed with a 100-mph rocket for a left arm, has arguably been the game’s most electric relief pitcher since joining the Reds in 2010 (get well soon, Chapman).
As decorated as each of these Cuban ballplayers already are in the big leagues, in the end their achievements may each pale in comparison to those of newest member of the Chicago White Sox: slugging first baseman Jose Dariel Abreu.
“Abreu is a better hitter than either Puig or Cespedes, and he should be the best (biggest impact) Cuban player to come to the majors during the three decades of the defectors era,” Bjarkman said.
Cespedes has agreed, admitting Abreu to be a better hitter than he.
That’s some pretty high praise.
There’s always a little extra mystique that surrounds international free agents, mainly because here in America we don’t have the opportunity to watch them play outside of those rare few games during international competitions. From the numbers we do know, Abreu has been impressive.
Five teams offered more than $60 million for Abreu, but the White Sox won the 27 year old’s services with a six-year, $68 million bid. The contract was the largest ever for an international free agent and the largest in team history. The numbers dwarf the seven-year, $47 million deal given to Puig, but they should. Puig was signed as a young prospect. Abreu was already an established Cuban superstar.
Twice, the slugging first-baseman has flirted with the triple crown in the Cuban professional league, something that’s never been done. A season after Cespedes set a league record with 33 home runs in a single season, Abreu broke it by hitting 35. In the 2013 World Baseball Classic he batted .360 with three home runs and nine RBIs for the Cuban national team – in just six games.
“If Puig is built like a linebacker, Abreu looks like a tight end,” Bjarkman said. “He’s got as much potential as anybody to come out of Cuba.”
The White Sox are hoping those abilities displayed while playing in and for Cuba will translate over to competition in the American League, where the club finished last in scoring in 2013. And if the examples of Puig’s and Cespedes’ successes to this point are any indication, there’s no reason not to expect Abreu to push to lead Chicago in each of the three triple crown categories (batting average, runs batted in and home runs).
Scouts rave about Abreu’s big-time power to all parts of the field. He’s also reported to be a guy who works hard with preparation and really knows the strike zone. Abreu wasn’t signed to be the next Adam Dunn – a lumbering, free-swinging bopper with no regard for situational hitting. Abreu was signed as the heir apparent to Paul Konerko, Chicago’s offensive leader for more than a decade. He will be expected to develop into a marketable, face-of-the-franchise type of foundation player. And according to those who know him better than we do, he has the skills to be just that.
“If he had just a tad more speed, he would be a complete player,” said Cespedes, who was pointing out that Abreu runs well for his size but does not exceptional speed. “Of the five tools, he’s got four. He’s a good fielder and he can hit for average and power.”
It’s time you got to know Jose Dariel Abreu, because he just might be the center piece needed to get the White Sox franchise back on track.