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Cuban slugger Jose Abreu has been all White Sox could have wanted

GLENDALE AZ - FEBRUARY 22:  Jose Abreu #79 Chicago White Sox poses for portrait phoday Glendale Sports Complex February

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 22: Jose Abreu #79 of the Chicago White Sox poses for a portrait on photo day at the Glendale Sports Complex on February 22, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 461757175

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Updated: April 10, 2014 6:39AM



GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jose Abreu’s entry into the major leagues, albeit at the Cactus League level, couldn’t be going better. His work ethic, demeanor, professionalism and approach to hitting have impressed White Sox management, teammates and coaches.

Through the first week of Cactus League games, he took pitches, worked counts and flashed the power the Sox are paying him $68 million over the next six years to see. Give Abreu an ‘‘A’’ on his first-quarter report card of camp.

But the test is far from over, and Abreu knows it. Spring training is an exercise in getting fit and finding a feel for pitchers, who will be better, more diversified and more astute come April. They will have figured out the best way to pitch to the 27-year-old Cuban first baseman, and adjusting will become the name of the game.

‘‘[Adjusting] is huge,’’ said Sox slugger Adam Dunn, a 13-year veteran who discovered that early in a career that has seen him hit 440 home runs. ‘‘The league is going to learn him before he learns the league, so that will be the adjustment. It’s a lot easier for everyone to learn one guy than for one guy to learn everyone. He has to learn a ton. But that swing will play anywhere.’’

The 6-3, 255-pound Abreu has strength and a good swing going for him. And he already has more than a clue about what he’s about to face.

‘‘It’s a mouse-and-cat game,’’ Abreu said through translator Lino Diaz, the Sox’ manager of cultural development. ‘‘They will find a way to get me, and I will try to find a way to get them.’’

Abreu kept his hands inside a pitch in on him and above the belt and muscled it to right-center field for a two-run double Tuesday, and he homered to the opposite field Thursday. Good signs, no doubt, but his results in Arizona won’t mean a thing come Opening Day on March 31.

‘‘You can’t define what he’s going to do specifically by what he does in spring training,’’ hitting coach Todd Steverson said. ‘‘You do like to see the approach, mind-set and plan he goes up there with to execute. You like to see the recognition quality that he has.

‘‘The biggest thing for him is learning the league. It’s different than playing in Cuba or international competition. This is the highest of the high, so he has a learning curve.’’

Before long, pitchers will be spotting the ball to the four quadrants of the strike zone in search of a weakness and of material to formulate a scouting report, Steverson said.

‘‘I tell him, ‘Stick to your game plan,’ ’’ Steverson said. ‘‘All he should do is swing at good pitches.’’

So far, so good on that front. Through his first five games, Abreu hasn’t stuck out.

In addition to baseball, Abreu is dealing with living in a new place, apart from his family, including his young son. He and his wife, Yusmary, left Cuba in the middle of a summer night for Haiti, where the process of becoming a free agent began. The Sox were something of a surprise winner in the free-agent sweepstakes that made Abreu a rich man — but at the price of being separated from family members.

‘‘It’s hard,’’ Abreu said. ‘‘Like I always say, I am thankful to God for the opportunity to be here. I am concentrating on my job, knowing they will be happy if I do my job well and do good things for them. Hopefully. we will get together soon.’’

Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @CST_soxvan



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