Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu has agreed to sign with the White Sox for a major league contract of six years and $68 million, according to reports from Fox Sports and MLB.com.
International sources had pegged the White Sox as one of the most likely landing spots for Abreu, who fills a need for the club at first base and fits with the organization’s history of coveting power bats in the draft, trade and international markets. The White Sox, who have had success with Cubans from Jose Contreras to Alexei Ramirez to Dayan Viciedo, were also one of the teams with the strongest presence at Abreu’s open showcases in the Dominican Republic a few weeks ago, with executive vice president Ken Williams in attendance.
Abreu, a 26-year-old righthanded hitter, was one the premier offensive force in Cuba, where he posted dominant numbers playing for Cienfuegos in Cuba’s top league, Serie Nacional, and starred on the country’s national team. Abreu, like Yoenis Cespedes did when he signed with the Athletics last year, is expected to begin his career in the major leagues.
At 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, Abreu’s strength helps him generate raw power that earns grades of 70 to 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale, by far his best tool. He’s an intelligent hitter who can hit the ball out of the park to all fields when he gets his arms extended or when pitchers make a mistake with an offspeed pitch over the plate.
While Abreu’s power is unquestioned, the scouting community is split over whether his power will translate against major league pitching. Some scouts consider his bat speed to be only average at best, which combined with the way his hitting mechanics have him crowd the plate and cut himself off, has left him vulnerable to good fastballs on the inner third of the plate. Some scouts have also noted a tendency to chase hard sliders off the plate.
Abreu lacks the athleticism of recent Cuban stars like Cespedes and Yasiel Puig (his former teammate in Cuba), so his value is heavily centered on his power-hitting potential. He has solid hands and an average arm at first base.
Unlike Puig when he arrived in Mexico last year and quickly signed with the Dodgers, Abreu, like Cespedes, is a player scouts know extremely well. Abreu has been a staple on the Cuban national team, racking up around 300 plate appearances outside of Cuba over the last three years that scouts have been able to see in person, including the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Teams also have access to video and performance data from Abreu’s career in Cuba, where his numbers were startling even by the league’s lofty offensive standards.
This past year in a Serie Nacional season split into two halves, Abreu hit .382/.636/.735 with 13 home runs in 42 games in the first half with nearly twice as many walks (37) as strikeouts (21). In the first half of the season he led the league in on-base percentage, slugging, OPS and home runs while ranking second in batting average. He hit .305/.414/.492 with six homers in 23 games in the second half.
In 2011-12, Abreu hit .394/.542/.837 with 35 home runs, 75 walks and 40 strikeouts in 71 games, leading the league in batting average, OBP, slugging and OPS, although Alfredo Despaigne won the MVP award.
Abreu was the MVP in 2010-11, when he hit .453/.597/.986 with 33 home runs, 58 walks and 32 strikeouts in just 293 plate appearances despite missing 23 games due to bursitis in his shoulder. His home runs were tied for the league lead with Cespedes, even though Abreu had 122 fewer plate appearances. It was the second straight season Abreu led the league in OBP, slugging and OPS, as he hit .399/.555/.822 with 30 home runs, 74 walks and 49 strikeouts in 82 games in 2009-10, although Despaigne won MVP honors that year as well.
Abreu left Cuba in August and is claiming permanent residency in Haiti. He has been cleared by both Major League Baseball and the U.S. government to sign after receiving his specific license from the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Since Abreu is at least 23 and has played in Serie Nacional since the 2003-04 season, his signing isn’t subject to the international bonus pools. Abreu is represented by Bart Hernandez and Praver Shapiro Sports Management.