Cuba over the last few years has been dealing out one baseball phenom after another. Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig, Odrisamer Despaigne and Aledmys Diaz are just some of the names making waves out of the island nation.
While all of these players are good, and beneficial to Major League Baseball, they did not have quite the same immediate impact as this next player Im about to mention. White Sox first baseman/designated hitter Jose Abreu has shown maturity and poise above and beyond his 27 years on this earth.
Its no secret why Cuban players defect to the United States Communism, poverty, extremely low wages (even for pro athletes), and human rights violations gives them the desire for a better life. Even if it means risking their lives in order to do better for themselves and their families.
Aside from boxing, Baseball is the easiest and probably the most profitable- way to get off the oppressive island. What set Abreu apart from others was his uncanny hitting ability. In 2013, Abreu defected from his homeland after batting .383 with three home runs and nine RBIs for Team Cuba in the World Baseball Classic.
Jose Abreu’s surprising big contract
Later that year, members of the White Sox front office traveled the Dominican Republic where Abreu had established residency- and watched him perform in front of MLB scouts. His performance was so convincing that Sox vice president Kenny Williams and general manager Rick Hahn signed Abreu to a six-year, $68 million contract in October.
Thats a ton of money for someone who not only had never faced major league pitching, but who also never even took a swing in the minors. Some questioned giving the unproven slugger such a huge contract, but perhaps the White Sox knew something that the rest of us didnt. Since then, the White Sox organization has gotten huge returns on their investment.
Abreu currently leads the majors in home runs (29), also leads in slugging percentage (.619), hes second in runs batted in (74), as well as total bases (210), and leads all rookies in these same categories. Not even May trip to the disabled list (15 days for a sprained ankle) could slow down the 255-pounder.
If he keeps up this record-setting pace, he could find his way into the record books. Hes on course to break Mark McGwires rookie record for home runs (49 in 1987), Abreu also has a shot to reach 120 RBIs and could even inch towards a slugging percentage of .700.
Nobody has had more of an immediate offensive impact on his team this season than Jose Abreu. And its because of that impact, along with his numbers, is why I feel he will be a unanimous choice for the 2014 American League Rookie of the Year award.
The White Sox probably wont make the playoffs this year (48-52, 4th in A.L. Central), but Abreu gives the franchise a glimpse into an optimistic and hopeful future. He may not be able to speak English yet, but it doesnt take a translator to understand that the offensive fireworks Abreu provides is a universal language.
Perhaps that universal language will one day get the Sox back to the postseason.