Wiry Abreu Flies Under The Radar

Indians' prospect is raw but talented

KINSTON, N.C.—As Abner Abreu uses his effortless, righthanded swing to stroke ball after ball into deep right field during batting practice at Grainger Stadium, Rouglas Odor is taken back in time.

Odor, a Kinston Indians infielder in the early 1990s and now the team's hitting coach, sees in Abreu snapshots of a former teammate who went on to become one of baseball's elite hitters.

"Manny Ramirez," Odor said. "He reminds me of Manny when he was young."

A 20-year-old right fielder from the Dominican Republic with raw, natural power, Abreu has drawn early comparisons not only to a young Ramirez, but to Vladimir Guerrero with better strike-zone discipline.

On a Kinston club stacked with high-profile prospects like righthander Alex White, lefthander Nick Hagadone and second baseman Jason Kipnis, Abreu might be the highest-ceiling prospect you've never heard of.

"Our hitting guys, subjectively, think he has one of the purest swings in our system. It's innate," said Cleveland farm director Ross Atkins, who is hesitant to compare Abreu to Ramirez or Guerrero just yet. "It's clear he's more powerful than most and of the likes of (fellow Indians prospects) Lonnie Chisenhall and Carlos Santana.

"If he can find that fine balance where he's seeing the ball and maintaining his aggressiveness, he could become an all-star-caliber hitter with above-average defensive ability at a corner outfield position."

Sleeper Alert

The Indians signed Abreu as a 16-year-old infielder out of their Dominican academy for $350,000, a huge amount for the club at the time. He was moved from shortstop to third base and then converted to the outfield before the 2009 season.

Entering 2010, he was a career .268/.334/.498 hitter in three seasons in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League, the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League and the low Class A South Atlantic League.

Last season, in his first full year, Abreu hit .305/.351/.488 with seven home runs, 16 doubles and 30 RBIs in just 246 at-bats at low Class A Lake County before a shoulder injury, suffered while diving for a ball, ended his season in June.

Before he got hurt, Abreu had 11 hits in seven games to bring his average up 13 points.

Since then, rather than sulk over a solid season cut short, Abreu has worked on strike-zone recognition while adding about 15 pounds onto his wiry 6-foot-3 frame, bringing him up to a still rather skinny 170 pounds.

But Abreu's pop, Odor said, comes not from his bulk but from his quick, powerful hands and wrists.

"He has that whip, that bat speed, and that's how you hit," Odor said. "You don't muscle your swing. If you've got that bat speed and hand speed, you're going to be able to generate a lot of power. And he has it."

Abreu also possesses the speed, arm, range and fielding acumen of an elite corner outfield prospect. But Atkins said his intelligence and desire to succeed are just as impressive.

After he signed, Abreu committed himself to learning English. He did so faster than any player Atkins, the Tribe's former director of Latin American operations, has seen with the Indians.

"He's applying that to his game, that same intelligence," Atkins said. "So you take those tools and that intelligence and his drive, and it could be special. But he has to do it. He has to perform."

One of Abreu's tools was on display in a recent game against Winston-Salem. After a broken-bat single to right, Abreu scooped up the ball and fired a one-hop strike to the plate to nail speedy White Sox prospect Eduardo Escobar, who looked like he would score easily from second.

"He definitely is one of those five-tool players that we look forward to having for years in this organization and hopefully helping out the major league club within the next three years or so," Kinston manager Aaron Holbert said.

Showing Up On Radar

Abreu, who has a wide, boyish grin that comes easily and often, knows he's flying under the radar—even more so on a club with so many higher-profile players. Ranked as the Indians' No. 23 prospect, Abreu was asked whether, given the way Indians staffers have talked about him, becoming a major league regular seems like more of a real possibility.

"Yeah, absolutely," he said. "Now I'm playing baseball smarter. I'm thinking more about the little things that I didn't before."

Abreu, who can play left field but projects as a right fielder because of his arm, will work this season with Odor on pitch recognition and staying within the strike zone. He struck out 68 times last season while drawing just 11 walks; he has a 166-38 career strikeout-to-walk ratio in 673 at-bats.

Bulking up is not a priority, Odor said, because of Abreu's natural strength and bat speed, adding that he will fill out.

Abreu and his agent at the time of his signing, Ellis Diaz, commanded a higher bonus than other clubs were willing to pay. The Indians upped their bid to get him and signed him late in the process.

More To Come

While his body of work is relatively small, Abreu has shown enough flashes of brilliance to convince the Indians that he could be prove to be a steal.

"The power's clear, the arm is clear, the athleticism's clear, the discipline is developing and the bat-to-ball is encompassed in that," Atkins said. "So you put those things together, and you don't have to dream."

Odor, who is in his 22nd year with the Indians as either a player, coach, manager or coordinator, has vivid memories of Ramirez working the right side of Grainger Stadium's field during BP.

"He didn't really drive the ball during batting practice," Odor said. "He was just trying to feel the head of the bat—working, hitting on top of it. And in games, he found a way to really get his swing going.

"(Abreu) reminds me of him a lot."

And should he have the kind of season the Indians hope he will, Abreu's days of relative anonymity will come to an abrupt end.

"I think this year," Abreu said, "I can make some noise."

David Hall covers the Kinston Indians for the Kinston Free Press.