The first month of the 2014 season will come to a close on Wednesday, and one person who will hate to see April end is White Sox rookie first baseman Jose Abreu, who is quickly becoming a household name on Chicago’s south side.
Abreu’s explosion onto the MLB scene this month continued on Sunday when he drilled a two-run homer off former Cy Young winner David Price, and later drove in two more runs to give him 31 RBIs for the month of April, breaking the tie for the all-time rookie record of 27 in the month, which he had been sharing with Albert Pujols, who achieved the feat in 2001. On his way to claiming the April rookie record from Pujols, Abreu surpassed Paul Konerko’s team record for RBIs in April, which was 28, previously posted in 2002. Abreu’s 31 is also the most RBIs in any month by a south-sider since Frank Thomas drove in the same number in August of 2003.
With three more games (one against Tampa Bay, and two against Detroit) left in the month, Abreu could very well challenge Harold Baines’ franchise record for most RBIs in any month of 36, set in June 1987.
In addition to the RBIs, Abreu has belted 10 HRs, and has put up a slash line of .262/.330/.631 thusfar this season.
Now, I love baseball…and like a lot of other guys, I hate being wrong. However, during instances when I do turn out to be wrong, I’m usually pretty quick to admit to the fact. Now I don’t remember the exact wordage, but before the season started, I did a review and preview of both leagues, where I discussed everything from offseason moves good and bad, as well as awards and post season predictions. In all of that, I remember saying that I didn’t understand the White Sox signing Abreu. Now, that wasn’t a knock or Abreu or his talent so much as it was the club spending more millions of dollars on another first baseman. With $17.2 million being paid to Adam Dunn ($15 million) and Paul Konerko ($2.2 million) this year, Abreu’s six-year $68 million contract is now looking like a big-time offseason bargain given his April numbers at the rate of the $8.6 million he’s receiving this year.
While Dunn is off to a respectable start as the team’s primary DH with 5 HRs, 11RBIs, and a steady .393 OBP, Konerko has fallen on hard times providing no power, 2RBIs and a slash line of .226/.242/.258 while only appearing in 15 games.
While I’m sure Abreu will cool off a bit before reaching the 62HRs and 193RBIs he’s on pace to accumulate if he were to play in all 162 games, the Cuban import currently leads the AL in HRs (10), RBIs (31), slugging percentage (.621), while also ranking third in runs (20), and sixth in OPS (.962), all of which have been garnered while playing in all of his team’s first 26 games.
A lot of the “rookie talk” rubs some fans the wrong way, as Abreu had five-plus years experience in the Cuban League before the ChiSox snatched him up during the offseason. It’s a lot of the same type of backlash often associated with Japanese League players like Ichiro Suzuki, Hideo Nomo, Yu Darvish, and Masahiro Tanaka, who dominate over seas and then continue that success in the Major Leagues under the “rookie” classification.
“He’s not a rookie,” commented a Detroit Tigers’ fan this morning on MLB.com. “I had the same issue when Ichiro came over. The MLB rule should be updated on this one. Yes, he’s a beast, but lets see where he is in July and August before we start crowning him MVP.”
For the record, I felt the same way following the 1995 season when Nomo was named “Rookie of the Year” over Chipper Jones, who I at the time thought was a “genuine rookie.” Alas, with age comes perspective. While Abreu does indeed have years under his belt in the Cuban League, he is still a rookie to MLB. He’s in a new county, learning a new language, new culture, and most importantly new pitchers. His beast-like hitting during this inaugural month of his MLB career is all happening in a pitching dominant era, where some are even suggesting that the baseball powers again lower the mound to balance out the current lack of offense we grew accustomed to during the 1990’s and early 2000’s.
Nevertheless, Abreu has had a tremendous start to the season, and his team currently sits 1.5 games behind Detroit in the AL Central with a 13-13 record. If Abreu continues to progress, he has displayed the kind of talent that could carry a club throughout the summer.