Jose Abreu begins his fourth season in the majors in a much different situation than when he first joined the Chicago White Sox.
When Abreu arrived in the U.S. from Cuba in 2014, the White Sox were a veteran team with players like Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, John Danks and Alexei Ramirez. Now Chicago is rebuilding, and Abreu finds himself as one of the team’s veterans and leaders.
Only pitchers Jose Quintana, Nate Jones and Jake Petricka, and outfielder Avisail Garcia are still with the White Sox from that 2014 roster.
“I feel very good to be known as a veteran of this team,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “I have talked about it with (manager) Rick (Renteria) and I’m very motivated to take the role.”
Abreu took part in his first workout Sunday after arriving in camp on Saturday’s reporting day. Rain curtailed most outdoor activities over the weekend, but the hitters still were able to get a few swings in the cage.
Renteria, who was elevated from bench coach to manager after last season, said he hopes Abreu can be part of a group of players who can monitor the clubhouse.
“He works very hard, wants to excel but can also talk to (younger guys) and give them a level of comfort,” Renteria said.
After struggling through the first four months of 2016, the 30-year-old Abreu finished strong, hitting .338 from Aug. 1 on with 14 homers. He finished with a .293 batting average, 25 homers and 100 RBIs.
It was his third straight year with at least 100 RBIs, but the Sox finished under .500 for the fourth straight season.
“Everybody knows that at the beginning of last season, I didn’t perform well,” Abreu said. “That was kind of a surprise for me too. But I’m in good shape right now and I think I will be able to have a very good season this year.”
Abreu was a unanimous choice for AL Rookie of the Year in 2014 when he hit .317 with 36 homers and 107 RBIs. Many of his major numbers have declined with each year in the majors, and the slugger said he is still adjusting.
“There are different challenges, especially in my mind,” he said. “I never in my life experienced something like I did last year, but that put me in a better position as a player and as a person. I’m in a better position for this season because I learned from that experience.”
Now he can pass that advice along to his younger teammates, including top prospect Yoan Moncada. The slugging infielder, who was acquired from Boston in the Chris Sale trade, was Abreu’s teammate in 2012, playing for Cienfuegos in the Cuban National Series.
The 21-year-old Moncada has referred to Abreu as his “big brother,” and said it is a big advantage for him in his development to be on the same team.
“I think everybody knows how good he is,” Abreu said. “I’ve been trying to talk with him just about how things can be easier for him here, try to give him some advice. He’s a nice kid.”
He is new to the mentor role, but he says he is embracing it.
“I don’t know exactly how it will go, but I’m going to try,” Abreu said.