Five teams had the strongest presence at this week’s open showcases for Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu, according to several sources in attendance.
The Rangers and Red Sox, two teams that some believe could be the frontrunners for Abreu, each had several evaluators at Abreu’s showcases, held Monday and Tuesday at the Yankees’ Dominican academy. The Red Sox “were there in full force,” according to one scout.
While the Rangers’ season ended on Monday with a loss to the Rays in the wild card play-in game and the Red Sox are currently in the playoffs, at least three other teams no longer playing were able to send some of their more senior executives.
White Sox executive vice president Ken Williams was there, as were a heavy contingent from the Giants led by general manager Brian Sabean, special assistant Felipe Alou and special assignment scout Pat Burrell. Dan Jennings, whom the Marlins recently promoted to general manager, was also in attendance.
Every team had someone there to see Abreu, but the Giants seemed to have an especially large crew, despite having one of the game’s best first basemen in Brandon Belt under control for four more seasons and no DH spot available.
If the Giants do like Abreu, however (and the word on whether they do has been mixed), it’s conceivable they could sign him and either move Belt to left field or make him a coveted trade chip in a market thin on first basemen. Giants left fielders hit a combined .257/.314/.337 this season, with a .651 OPS that ranked dead last in baseball at the position. To land a top hitter on the free agent market who has a qualifying offer, the Giants would have to surrender the No. 14 pick in the draft, while Abreu would be able to sign with no draft compensation attached.
From a scouting perspective, there wasn’t much to learn that international scouts don’t already know. Abreu took batting practice and showed off his raw power, which earns grades of 70 to 80 on the 20-80 scale. Abreu has outstanding strength in his swing, and the only player in Cuba with more raw power than him at the time he left was Alfredo Despaigne.
Abreu faced live pitching (it’s believed they were some released pitchers, throwing in the low-90s), but scouts are aware it’s a controlled environment. Generally speaking, some sly player representatives are known for trying to manipulate these workouts by making sure the hitter knows what’s coming through various ways, such as having the catcher tell the batter what pitch is coming. That’s why teams place more emphasis on bringing players in to their academies for private workouts or seeing players at international tournaments, even if the pitchers there might have below-average stuff.
At the least, Abreu didn’t seem to hurt his stock. One of the questions scouts have had about Abreu was his ability to hit good pitching on the inner third of the plate. Scouts said he had mixed results in that area at the showcases, turning on some good inside fastballs but also missing some too, even though the pitchers were throwing almost exclusively fastballs.
Scouts consider Abreu a surefire first baseman, but he did take ground balls at third base. It makes sense in a tryout so that scouts can get a better feel for his arm strength (it’s average), and for his agents to perhaps try to convince a team that he might be able to play third base in a Miguel Cabrera, avert your eyes type of way. Trainers do the same thing with their 16-year-old Dominican infielders, putting them at shortstop even if there’s no chance they can stay there.
“I don’t know what it was to show,” said one scout. “To me, it just showed he couldn’t play third base.”
Scouts said Abreu’s hands were fine and he fielded the balls hit right at him, but he was a first baseman in Cuba and doesn’t have the range to play on the other side of the diamond, so he’s almost certain to sign as a first baseman. Any team that lands him will be banking on his bat.