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Jose Abreu making good first impression with White Sox

Updated: March 20, 2014 6:35AM



GLENDALE, Ariz. — First baseman Jose Abreu is doing everything right.

He has shown up early for work and is taking a professional, serious approach to it.

He handles interviews — with an assist from an interpreter while he’s learning English — with ease and grace.

Abreu seems genuinely grateful for the opportunity to play in the United States after starring in Cuba and, judging by the way he’s working after coming to camp 21/2 weeks early, is determined to make the White Sox’ six-year, $68 million investment in him worth their while.

‘‘He was hitting for, like, four hours in the cage [Monday], so I can’t imagine what he’s going to do when he’s feeling good,’’ Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham said Tuesday.

Hitting coach Todd Steverson, manager Robin Ventura and general manager Rick Hahn have applauded Abreu’s approach around the batting cage. The 6-2, 258-pound slugger works on hitting the ball to all fields, although he launched one batting-practice pitch from Ventura that landed who-knows-where.

‘‘That’s stuff you like to see, the way he works and goes about it,’’ Ventura said. ‘‘He knows how to practice. You’re watching him practice, and he’s not worried about trying to hit every ball over the fence. He’s moving it around the field and hitting it on the barrel. Even fielding stuff, you’re watching him do things for a reason. He has a way to go about it that’s very professional.’’

Abreu, who likely will get his first taste of major-league pitching — albeit not quite the real thing — when the Sox play their first Cactus League game Feb. 28, seems motivated by what he will get paid and the reputation that precedes him.

‘‘Expectations for me are clear, but I have to prepare,’’ Abreu said. ‘‘That’s all I control for now — preparation.’’

Including postseason games, Abreu batted .392 with 133 home runs, 337 RBI and 278 walks in 346 games in the last four seasons. While he projects as a No. 3,
No. 4 or No. 5 hitter in the lineup, Ventura is laying off penciling him in anywhere in February. Nor is he prepared to say Abreu will get 500 at-bats, no matter what.

‘‘If he’s doing well enough, he can have them,’’ Ventura said. ‘‘You don’t want to put that out there that that’s
expected. Paulie [Konerko] is going to mix in [at first base]. There’s Dunner [Adam Dunn]. It’s not required that he has to have that. We’ll kind of readjust and see how it goes during the season. If he does, that’s great. I just want to let him play. There are expectations because of the money you have and him coming over from Cuba. I just want him to be comfortable and play.’’

The Cactus League will give Ventura a better idea of what he has in Abreu, but it’s still not quite the real deal. Abreu won’t face all top-of-the-line pitchers, breaking pitches aren’t as sharp and the ball carries better in
Arizona.

So time will tell. The
encouraging thing, from the Sox’ standpoint, is that Abreu is going about this all right.

‘‘It will be somewhat of a challenge,’’ Ventura said. ‘‘But you let him just handle it. I think he’s mature enough [at 27] and good enough. That’s part of coming here, and that’s the challenge for him of leaving another country and getting the contract he got to go play. And I think he has the personality and makeup to handle it just fine.’’

Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @CST_soxvan



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