Abreu played professionally in Cuba from 2003-04 through 2012-13 seasons. Jose's life in Cuba was not bad, but it wasn't great, either. He had a fairly comfortable house. He did not have a car. He earned about $15 a month, aconnd he supplemented his income by reselling clothes and cellphones that a pastor in Haleah, Florida, a Cuban expat, would send him.
In 2010, Abreu was Cuba's starting first baseman when they won the Intercontinental Cup, their first Gold in an international tournament in three years. He hit .292/.320/.500.
Then Jose helped Cuba finish second at the 2010 Pan American Games Qualifying Tournament. In the 2010 World University Championship, he posted the best average by going 10 for 18 with 2 walks, a double, triple, four homers, 9 runs and 12 RBI in six games as Cuba won the Gold. He was 0 for 4 in the finale, as Cuba edged Team USA. He was named the event's All-Star 1B.
In 2010-2011, Jose continued to improve. In fact, he had one of the greatest seasons in Cuban history. He hit .453/.597/.986 with 79 runs, 93 RBI and 33 home runs in only 66 games. Despite missing 23 games due to bursitis in his shoulder, he broke Alfredo Despaigne's home run record, as did Yoenis Céspedes—both hit their 33rd on the season's last day. Despaigne would reclaim the record a year later.
In the March 2013 World Baseball Classic, scouts saw more of Abreu. He hit .360/.385/.760 with three home runs in 25 at-bats, numbers in line with his typical dominance during international play.
2013 Scouting Report: If Abreu played in the U.S.A., he would be above average, for sure. But just how far above average are we talking?
David Forst, assistant general manager for the Oakland A's, has some thoughts on the subject. Over the past few years, the A's have repeatedly lost free-agent bidding wars, even after making the highest bids. They offered Lance Berkman a two-year deal; he took a one-year deal instead, then hit like a fringe MVP candidate for the Cardinals. They offered Rafael Furcal four years; he took three to play for the Dodgers. Adrian Beltre snubbed Oakland twice.
So desperate were the A's to get somebody to take their free-agent money that they gave a broken down Ben Sheets $10 million. Predictably, he got hurt, making just 20 starts that season. He hasn't pitched in a Major League game since.
It's against that backdrop that the A's agreed to a four-year, $36 million deal for Yoenis Cespedes. He has tools on top of tools on top of tools. He's an athlete so impressive, his agent produced the single best 20-minute video in the history of Western civilization—an orgy of flexing, stand-up sit-ups, violent swings, and star wipes.
Oakland and other teams agree that Abreu isn't nearly the all-around athlete that someone like Cespedes is. He's a first baseman at best and maybe a DH if and when he makes the big leagues. He doesn't run well. His body is not exactly chiseled. His stats have been inflated somewhat by intentional walks (a league-leading 32 in 2009-10, and 21 the following year) and hit-by-pitches (30 in 2009-10, 21 in 2010-11). Even Abreu's hit tool, while playable, might not be superstar-level.
"Is he Barry Bonds? No," Forst said. "If you do a comprehensive survey of the clubs, they'd say he is not the best hitter on the planet."
But . . .
"There are legitimate comparisons to Ryan Howard." (Mostly excerpted from Jonah Keri-Grantland-2/22/12)
In August 2013, Abreu defected from Cuba, in hopes of signing with a big league team.
In the prime of his career, Abreu was certain to sign a Major League contract; the only question is how high the dollars will get. Some scouts are not sold that his hitting will translate against major league pitching. (I guess some scouts were wrong.)
In August 2013, six Abreu family members were in a boat that departed from the Cuba shores at night. It took 12 hours, with his family members often huddled in prayer during the trip. Many talk about the emotions involved, but Jose would rather forget much of it.
White Sox teammate, catcher Adrian Nieto, also a native of Cuba, offered the most details of Abreu's trip. The two became fast friends last season, with Abreu often crediting Nieto with helping him to adjust in a new country.
"Jose was scared for his life in that little boat," Nieto said to Chicago Magazine. "Everybody was freaking out. At times, he was doubting himself. He had to pump himself up, saying, 'Let's go. You got to be the one to take charge here and be mentally strong to get everyone through this.'
"He told me many times: 'If it's everybody's life or mine, I'm going to make sure my parents and my sister live before I do.' Which is crazy for someone to tell you, that they'd put someone else in front of themselves. But that's how he is."
According to the magazine story, Abreu's boat eventually reached Haiti, with the family then moving on to the Dominican Republic.
In the Dominican, Abreu ultimately worked out for Major League clubs, where White Sox executive vice president Kenny Williams scouted him there personally. Williams has since famously said about that workout that it is the only one that ever made him want to "stand up and cheer" after it was completed. (Chicago Magazine - 3/21/2015)
In 2014, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Abreu as the #1 prospect in the White Sox organization.
Abreu is known in Cuba by the nickname Pito.
- Abreu said hearing about the exploits of countrymen such as Orlando "El Duque'' Hernandez and Jose Contreras. His success in the WBC convinced him he could play at the highest level.
But it was his mother, Daisy Correa Diaz, who prompted him to go for it (she also picked his unusual uniform number, 79). Abreu is believed to have left on a boat and reached Haiti before establishing residency there and gaining free agency.
"I owe it all to one person, and that's my mother. She's the one who made the decision, and we made the move at the right time," Abreu told USA TODAY Sports in a Spanish-language phone conversation. "I felt like, with all the things she'd done for me in 25 years, in less than one day I could repay her and give her and my family a much better life."
That enhanced life requires major adjustments on and off the field, high among them getting used to not having several relatives nearby. Abreu hopes to soon bring to the USA his parents, sister and brother-in-law. He also has a son from a previous marriage, 3-year-old Dariel Eduardo, with whom he talks on the phone regularly.
Abreu and his wife spend time every day learning English and acclimatizing to the new culture around them. Still, he said, "It's like being born again." (USA Today - 2/10/14)
The 6-foot-3, 255-pound Cuban slugger starts his spring training camp work day every morning at 7:00 a.m. in the batting cage, and he ends it there six or seven hours later when one of his White Sox coaches relays some version of "that's enough for today."
Back in Cuba, Abreu hit hundreds of balls each day, because the field was his sanctuary, a refuge where no one, not even Fidel Castro or his oppressive government, could touch him. Now, Abreu hits in solitude for hours with the hope that his hard work will bring him closer to his new White Sox family, the city of Chicago and, one day, with loved ones he left back on the island.
"For me, I had just one thought: I wanted to provide my mom, sister, my kid, my dad with things I couldn't provide them in Cuba," said Abreu, who is from Cienfuegos. "Especially, I thank mom for my life, so now it's the time for me to work for her. So I keep on working every day, and I don't get tired of it. Working every day, every hour, every minute is the best way for me to have God provide me with the things I can hope for and I deserve." (Sanchez - mlb.com - 2/27/14)
CLOSE TO MOM
Abreu speaks of his mother, Daisy Correa Diaz, with a sense of love and reverence. He wore Nos. 14 and 23 in Cuba before she told him he needed to switch to something more novel to give him an identity. So when he slips on a White Sox jersey with No. 79 on the back, he thinks of her. (April 2014)
It was Abreu's mother, Daisy Correa Diaz, who encouraged him to leave Cuba. It was his experience playing for Cuba in the World Baseball Classic and the success of Cuban players like Orlando Hernandez, Jose Contreras, Yasiel Puig, Aroldis Chapman and countless other stars from the island that convinced Abreu that he could do it, too.
"My dad gets jealous sometimes, because I don't talk a lot about him in interviews. But the mother is the most important thing," he said. "Thank God, my dad also dedicates himself a lot to me, and he talks to me every day, asks me how I'm doing in my training. He gets jealous, but as we say in Cuba, 'There is only one mother, anybody can be your dad.' I know that isn't exactly my case, but I know I give her that preference."
Abreu said he lives a quiet life off the field. He lives near the White Sox complex and rarely leaves the premises. Abreu hasn't made a big purchase like a fancy car or a new home since signing his contract, and he said he hasn't given it much thought.
"I'm a family-oriented person," Abreu said. "I like to be at home and have my time for my music, to watch news, read the Bible. I read the Bible every day, thank God. And when it comes to baseball, it's the same routine: baseball, baseball, and more baseball."
Baseball is Abreu's passion. His family is his life. He hopes all of the hard work—the hours spent in the batting cage before his teammates arrive at the complex and after they have pulled out of the parking lot -- will pay off. You can argue it already has. Abreu is financially set for life, and his family could join him in the United States sometime soon.
"The biggest home run I've ever hit is still in Cuba. That's my son Dariel Eduardo," Abreu said. "A part of my family is still there, but thank God, my mom, dad, my sister and my brother-in-law are at a safe place. I don't want to disclose it due to their security. But I hope to have them soon near me, and we can do an interview together." Until then, it's time to work. (Sanchez - mlb.com - 2/27/14)
Abreu's mother, Daisy Correa, stands as the driving force behind his venture from Cuba to the United States.
When Abreu received an American League honor, he talked about how his mom would love this accomplishment. When Abreu hit an opposite-field walk-off grand slam against Tampa Bay, it's almost as if his mom was there with him.
"I talked to her after the game and she told me she was celebrating," said Abreu, whose wife, Yusmary, is with him in Chicago. "And I asked, 'Why are you celebrating? You didn't hit that home run.' And she said, 'Yes, I'm the one who hit that home run.' She was laughing at me.
"You talk on the phone and hear her voice, [but] it's not enough. I haven't seen my mother in 10 months. The longest I ever spent away from my mother was one month. It's just too much. There's nothing we can really do but keep working at it, and one day we'll be together."
Being without his family admittedly has caused moments of sadness for the affable but low-key first baseman. In regard to that walk-off grand slam, there was an ensuing moment where Abreu sat in the White Sox dugout and cried, because the person he loves the most wasn't there to celebrate.
"We knew where we were from, and we know what was available to us," Abreu said. "My mother is everything to me. I owe my life, absolutely everything to my mother. The best lesson that I learned from my mother and my father, something they instilled on us growing up, is always be the very best person you can be to everyone," Abreu said. "That shows the type of person you are to the world." (Merkin - mlb.com - 5/09/14)
Abreu's wife, Yusmary, who defected with him, is a doctor. She made the trip to America with him, and other family members are on their way. His mother, father, sister and brother-in-law have all left Cuba and are in Haiti awaiting clearance to come to the States. (April 2014)
It's no surprise to hear that Abreu considers himself a student of the game. He has also already built a strong reputation for his solid work ethic. In fact, the slugger's intense workouts and long hours at camp have been tempered by the White Sox staff. He calls the change in workouts "another adjustment."
"They've corrected me a little bit," Abreu said with a smile. "For me, it's Spring Training and the season is coming with games so I wanted to be ready, but I understand what they are saying. There are a lot of games and they don't want me to overdo it. It's part of the game that I'm learning here."
Life without his family (who are still in Cuba) might be the most difficult adjustment of all for the first baseman. "Only God knows what the plan is for all of us, but I have faith we will be fine," Abreu said. "I feel like I'm getting closer to where I can be for Opening Day. We have more time and I can improve some more." (Sanchez - mlb.com - 3/19/14)
- There is a specific part of Jose's finely tuned daily regimen that doesn't include taking flips or using every part of batting practice to get ready for the game. This task, if you will, falls under the category of true love, even more love than Abreu shows toward the game where he excelled for the first month in the Major Leagues as part of the White Sox like very few other rookies who have come before him have excelled.
It's the simple and enjoyable act of calling his mother. "Every day. I have to talk to her every day," said Abreu, through interpreter and White Sox director of public relations Lou Hernandez. "Or else she'll get mad at me," Abreu added with a smile. (Merkin - mlb.com - 5/09/14)
In 2014, Jose sought out Albert Pujols, seeking advice for the language barrier and baseball itself. Pujols told him to simply focus on playing the game to the best of his ability.
"When I hear something from somebody like that, telling me that's it going to be OK, you get strength from it," Abreu said. "Everybody who is young and in this league, they would love to hear advice from somebody who has accomplished so much in baseball here."
Jose was asked what players, past and present, he'd pay to watch play baseball.
"Minnie Minoso from the past, and Albert Pujols, now. When I was growing up in Cuba, my favorite player was Orestes Kindelan, and later, Derek Jeter."
Abreu shuns Chicago's nightlife. "If I ever have the feeling that I want to listen to music, or whatever, I like to do it at home," Jose says. "I try to spend most of my time away from baseball with my family."
Jose is often referred to in the White Sox clubhouse as the "anti-Puig," and he allows that he has a different personality from his former teammate.
"Yasiel, as you can see, is a guy with a lot of energy and a lot of emotions," Abreu says. "I'm a little more calmed down. I like to watch before I do, and understand before I act."
Abreu did not take long to become a leader on the White Sox. "He's very coachable, and the easiest part for him is he just wants to play. He wants to be good," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "He's a leader. He understands what he means to our team and our organization. He takes care of himself and comes ready to play every day."That's the biggest thing, whether he can fully speak English and understand it, he does understand what he means. And that's the biggest part. He's a leader. He will be the leader of our team—it's that simple." (8/29/14)
In 2014, Abreu was named American League Rookie of the Year. Since this award was first given out in 1947, only four rookies have batted at least .300, hit at least 30 home runs, and driven in at least 100 runs, and all have earned the honor.
In February, Jose said regarding the 2015 season, "I'm preparing for a longer season. I'm not preparing for 162 games. I want playoffs in Chicago. Individual accolades won't matter. At the end, we will be remembered for what we accomplished as a team, and as a team, we have business to finish this year and years to come."
For the first time since joining the White Sox, Jose talked about his departure from Cuba. He sat down with a reporter form Chicago Magazine in January 2015 to discuss his 12-hour journey that included his fiancée, Yusmary, his parents, Daisy Correa and Jose, and his sister and her husband from Cuba to Haiti on a tiny boat in August 2013.
He told the reporter that the trip was dangerous, but "God gave us the chance to reach our destination."
"I agreed to the interview. I don't know what they have written," Abreu said through interpreter and White Sox Spanish language broadcaster Billy Russo. "But I don't feel very comfortable talking about my journey from Cuba to the United States. It's very sensitive and I don't want to remember that."
Adrian Nieto, a close friend and teammate of Abreu, who had his own harrowing trip from Cuba with his family, explained in the Chicago Magazine article that "Jose was scared for his life in that little boat," but that he was determined that everyone would make it. The article talked about Abreu's development as a player in Cuba, his decision to come to the United States and how much he missed his young son, Dariel.
"It's dangerous to leave Cuba, and no parent wants to put his child in danger," Abreu said in the article. "So I decided to take the risk without him."
There didn't seem to be much of an assimilation process for Abreu as a Major League player, setting a White Sox single-season rookie record for homers with 36. He also topped the Majors with a .581 slugging percentage. As White Sox television play-by-play announcer Ken "Hawk" Harrelson recently pointed out in an interview with MLB.com, Abreu also became a leader during his first season.
Life is definitely more comfortable for Abreu presently. He better understands the process to get through a 162-game schedule and is excited with the White Sox chance, at least on paper, to reach the postseason. During the offseason, Abreu told MLB.com that he was preparing for a season longer than 162 games because he wants to play in the playoffs in Chicago.
There's no doubt that Abreu's comfort level has increased with his parents in the United States and able to see their son in action, something they weren't able to do until 2014's All-Star Game in Minneapolis.
"My family is everything," said Abreu, who live in the suburbs of Miami. "To be able to get them here is awesome for me. It makes everything easier for me around the team and around my life because I have their support. It's completely different because my family is here." (Merkin - mlb.com - 3/23/15)
"He is a leader. There is no question. It doesn't matter about the English might not be as good as he wants it to be right now, or singing the anthem or anything like that that he wants to do," said White Sox manager Robin Ventura of Abreu.
"A lot of guys follow by example. They see how he works. They see the time he puts into things and what he cares about. You can see him interact with his teammates, either inside our clubhouse, on the field, when we fly. He's definitely a leader on this team. In that part you feel lucky." (Merkin - mlb.com - 5/20/15)
There's almost always a moment in Jose's daily phone conversations with his 5-year-old son, Dariel Eduardo, where Dariel adopts the same mindset as the White Sox fan base.
"The one thing he always asks me is to give a home run, to hit a home run," said a smiling Abreu through interpreter and White Sox Spanish language broadcaster Billy Russo. "He says, 'Papi, hit a home run for me and give me one car.'"
Abreu calls fatherhood a blessing from God, adding that the three years he spent with his son was "awesome," he feels specially connected and that he always has to take care of him. But there's also a void in Abreu's life, stemming from Abreu's decision to play professional baseball for the White Sox in the United States while needing to leave his son behind in Cuba.
"It was a decision to try to find a best future for him: Of course for my family all around, but especially for him," Abreu said. "It has been very, very difficult for me. I'm a very family-oriented person and not just with my mom and my dad and with my family, but with my kid, of course. He's an extension of me. I have struggled some times because I miss him. But now I can give him the things that when I was there, I couldn't give him."
Abreu admitted that his first weeks and months away were difficult because his relationship with Dariel's mom wasn't the best. Now, they have a very good relationship and she is even in contact with Abreu's wife and his mom, who are both with him in the United States. "That's good for my son right now," Abreu said. "We are not together but we are happy with our situation."
Dariel lives with his mom in Abreu's house from the time when he was a standout player for Cienfuegos in Cuba. Baseball is not exactly his son's present focus. "I don't think he's going to be a baseball player," a smiling Abreu said. "I think he's going to be a car mechanic. The most important thing for me is that he can be in good health and the best person possible and grow up like a good person."
A main hope for Abreu is that Dariel soon will be growing up with him in Chicago, and then Florida in the offseason. Just talking with Dariel invigorates Abreu, so having him in person would be that gift from God relived.
"We are working on it, and I think that we are going to be together soon," Abreu said. "Once I get my papers for the citizenship, I will be able to claim him and then we are going to be together again.
"Sometimes when I saw [Adam] LaRoche with his son, Drake, I feel jealous in a good way. I know that every father wants to be with his son, especially in this environment. I hope that sooner than later you could be talking with him here in Spanish and he'll be here with me." (Merkin - mlb.com - 6/19/15)
Abreu will remember his first All-Star Game appearance as the last one made by Yankees legend Derek Jeter. It was in 2014. He took away greater memories than connecting on an extra-base hit or making a slick play in the field. One of those memories involved a brief chat with Jeter in the clubhouse.
"We didn't spend too much time together, however our lockers were kind of close," said Abreu through interpreter and White Sox Spanish language broadcaster Billy Russo. "There was a moment when I asked the clubbie to give a ball to Jeter to get it signed, and then when the clubbie went to Jeter, Jeter came to me and spoke to me in Spanish because he's fluent in Spanish.
"It was a very good experience. He's an outstanding person."
"I want to thank God for giving me that opportunity because it was a great experience to be around all those superstars, especially Jeter was one of my favorites," Abreu said. "I had the opportunity to share that experience with my family also, which was amazing for me. I think that it was one of the best experiences of my life." (S Merkin - MLB.com - July 4, 2015)
The most dynamic offensive force in the White Sox attack serves as the classic case of leading by example. But as Abreu's 2015 season came to a close, he had his sights set on taking that responsibility to possibly another level.
"That has been one of my goals every day, but because my personality is I'm kind of shy, I don't like to talk too much and of course also because of the language," said Abreu through interpreter and White Sox Spanish language broadcaster Billy Russo. "Probably I'm not completely satisfied about that mission, because I could do more. But it's a work in progress. Hopefully for next year, I can have a little more experience and try to create a bigger impact on the other guys."
In reality, Abreu's impact already holds great influence. Players simply need to look at the daily routine Abreu follows for success or even the way he goes about batting practice, with a distinct purpose to every swing, to understand what it takes to be an elite player.
Abreu's season goals are set on a month-by-month basis, as opposed to saying he wants to hit 40 homers and drive in 120 runs at the start of a season. That smaller sample helps Abreu adjust as he goes.
"If you try to see the whole picture in the beginning, sometimes you can get frustrated," Abreu said. "I have to go week by week or month by month because I feel good in that way, in my work. It's a good way to evaluate in a short period of time how I'm performing and if I need to do something else, or if I'm going to have to change something. That's a very good strategy for me and has worked well for me in my career."
Abreu knows his 2015 statistics weren't quite as big as his AL Rookie of the Year Award campaign, and the White Sox are nowhere near meeting the lofty preseason expectations they set. Abreu also understands that he'll be at the forefront of a White Sox turnaround in 2016 in more ways than one.
"I'm trying to be a leader by example," Abreu said. "I'm trying to work hard every day so that the other guys can see me working hard. I am the first one here and I am the last one to leave the ballpark. That will help also to create a culture around the team and that they can see me as a leader. I'm not the kind of person that is going to proclaim, 'Hey, I am a leader.' I like to be a leader by example. That's the way I'm trying to do it."
"Just who he is as a person and how he handles himself, he's already a leader," manager Robin Ventura said. "If he's not already that guy, he's well on his way." (Merkin - mlb .com -9/4/15)
Favorites: Movie: Cars. TV show: El Senor de los Cielos. Music: Salsa.
- December 15, 2015: The MLB goodwill tour made a stop in Cuba for the first time and reunited Cuban defectors with loved ones.
The biggest reunion of the day was the last. It was also the most private. Around 5:00 p.m., Abreu snuck away from the pack and saw his young son Darielito for the first time in almost three years.
"It's hard to describe what I'm feeling," Abreu said. "There's an excitement and anxiousness in my stomach. I've never felt this before, but it's good. It's good to be back." (Jesse Sanchez)
December 15, 2015: Abreu reunites with his #1 fan in Cuba.
Peter Aguila Prado didn't want to sleep the night before his idol. He was too anxious, too emotional. He knew that at 5:00 a.m., he and his mom would wake up and take a four-hour drive east to be reunited with his hero, his mentor, his friend.
Finally, he arrived. It was 10:00 a.m., and Major League Baseball's shuttle pulled into Victoria de Giron Stadium, site of this goodwill tour's second clinic for local children. Prado stood out front, in the middle of the mob that awaited the eight-player contingent, sporting a White Sox cap and clenching his fists.
And at long last, there he was—Jose Abreu.
"Pito!" Prado yelled out, uttering the nickname Abreu only hears in this nation, in front of his people.
Abreu smiled, walked over and embraced Prado, a 17-year-old boy who was born with neurological paralysis and has spent the last two-plus years—28 months, as he'll tell you—waiting to see Abreu again.
"You've gotten so big," Abreu told him. "I used to be able to lift you up."
Abreu was the star player for the Cienfuegos Elephants, the team that plays in Prado's hometown. The youngster instantly became a diehard fan, and the two got close thanks to Prado's mom, Idalia, a faculty member at the university where Abreu studied.
Prado became a fixture at the home ballpark, Cinco de Septiembre Stadium. He sat behind home plate and celebrated Abreu's home runs more boisterously than anybody else. And every time Abreu crossed home plate, he pointed in Prado's direction.
"Seeing him again," Prado said in Spanish, "I can't even find the words." (Alden Gonzalez - 12/17/15)
April 16, 2016: Abreu enjoys a good laugh, so his guest at Tropicana Field offered some home-country humor.
Luis Silva, a popular Cuban comedian who performed a skit with President Barack Obama before Obama's recent visit to Cuba, mingled behind the batting cage prior to the game between the Rays and White Sox. Silva, visiting on a work visa, met Abreu two years ago through a friend after Abreu made it known that he watched Silva's sketches on his tablet when flying.
"This is like the biggest thing," Silva said through a translator. "I've been a baseball fan from the time I was a kid in Cuba. To be able to be here in the highest level of baseball, it's like a dream come true. But it's more important that I'm here because one of the biggest Cuban baseball players in history, like Jose Abreu, invited me to be here. And I'm glad to be here. I feel very honored to be a part of Abreu's friends.
"Abreu said he values Silva's friendship."This is a beautiful opportunity we've had to meet here," Abreu said through a translator. "You're around Cuban people, you have to want to help each other. He's a big star in Cuba, and because all of the fame that he has and because I was playing with Cienfuegos and the national team and I also have a name—we had the opportunity to meet, and from that moment, we created a very good relationship. He's a very good person, and I like to be around him."
The feeling is mutual. Silva stood on the field with Abreu in character as "Pánfilo," an elderly man found in Silva's show, "Vivir del Cuento." Humor is the bond that connects the two famous friends.
"Cuba has a population of 11 million, and 11 million people are Abreu fans," Silva said. "Once he came here and started doing what he was doing with the White Sox, everybody loved him." (A Astleford - MLB.com - April 17, 2016)
April 26, 2016: Cuban baseball players paid a South Florida-based smuggling ring more than $15 million to leave the communist island in secretive ventures that included phony documents, false identities and surreptitious boat voyages to Mexico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, federal prosecutors say.
A recently unsealed grand jury indictment against three men provides fresh details about the smuggling of 17 Cuban players, among them Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox and Leonys Martin of the Seattle Mariners. Martin signed with the Rangers in 2011 and was traded to the Mariners in November 2015.The smugglers usually took a percentage of any Major League Baseball contract a player signed. (Associated Press)
- August 8, 2016: Abreu experienced a moment that forever will surpass any three-homer game or game-winning hit. Abreu was reunited with his five-year-old son, Dariel, whom he has seen once since coming to the United States and joining the White Sox prior to the 2014 season. That visit came in December during Major League Baseball's goodwill tour to Cuba.
Dariel will be with his father until the start of September, but with a five-year visa, he will be able to return soon. Abreu returned to his Florida home to spend Monday's off-day with his son and rejoined the team on Tuesday in Kansas City for the series opener against the Royals.
"I couldn't say anything to him in that moment. I just started crying," Abreu said through interpreter Billy Russo of his reaction when first seeing his son, who turns six on Sept. 17. "I'm very happy.
"I'm very happy to have my son with me here. I want to thank everybody who was involved in that process to help me and to help him to be with me right now. It was a long process, but finally we did it, and we are together again. Yesterday was a very special moment when I saw him and we were reunited at my house. It was a very special moment for me and for him, too." ( Scott Merkin / MLB.com )
August 12, 2016: There wasn't much time for Jose Abreu to sleep with the White Sox having an early-morning arrival from Kansas City. But where getting to spend time with his son, Dariel, is concerned, an ecstatic Abreu understands that he can rest at another time.
Abreu spent the day with his son, parents, wife and sister, and they all attended the game at Marlins Park, marking the first time his 5-year-old watched his daddy play Major League Baseball. Dariel had one not-so-simple request for his father before leaving for the ballpark.
"The only thing he asked me is to just hit a homer," said a smiling Abreu through interpreter Billy Russo. "That's the only thing that he asked me." Abreu didn't homer, but he did drive in a run with one of his two singles in Chicago's 4-2 win over Miami.
"To have my son here is very nice," Abreu said. "Everybody knows how I am with my family. All of my family and I are very happy because we have him here. It was a special moment for us, and we're trying to take advantage of all the time that we can spend together."
The family will be reunited once again in Chicago on Aug. 19, where Dariel will spend some time before returning to Miami and then Cuba for the start of school in early September. The younger Abreu has a five-year travel visa, so he will be able to visit his father again.
"Everybody has known that we have seven or eight months without seeing each other," said Jose. "But I'm happy he's here and I'm happy that he can come tonight to see me play. Like I said before, I'm going to treat it as motivation and have to channel it the best way possible.
"Cuba is my town, my country," said Abreu, who makes his offseason home in Florida. "But Miami was the first place I visited when I came to the U.S., and then Chicago. I'm glad because of all the welcome that Miami and Chicago gave me. Like I said before, this is my second home. I don't want to pick between one or the other, but I'm very glad to have this opportunity to play here tonight." (Merkin - MLB.com)
March 1, 2017: Abreu told a Miami federal jury that he ate a page of a fake passport and washed it down with beer while flying illegally from Haiti to Miami in a Cuban ballplayer smuggling operation in 2013, according to the Associated Press. Abreu testified in the trial of sports agent Bartolo Hernandez and trainer Julio Estrada, who are accused of alien smuggling and conspiracy.
Jose, who was granted limited immunity and therefore will not be prosecuted as long as he tells the truth, told the jury he broke the law out of fear he would miss an October 2013 deadline and lose the $68 million contract he eventually signed with the White Sox.
"If I had not been there on that particular day, the deadline, then the contract would not be executed and would no longer be valid," Abreu reportedly told the jury. "We had to be in Chicago to sign the contract."
Hernandez and Estrada were indicted for allegedly organizing a smuggling ring in which Cuban ballplayers paid them more than $15 million to leave Cuba in secretive ventures that included boat voyages, fake documents and threats of violence. Abreu is one of several Cuban-born Major Leaguers, including the Marlins' Adeiny Hechavarria and the Mariners' Leonys Martin, to testify in the trial, which is expected to last several more weeks.
Abreu, who won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2014, testified that he received the fake passport in Haiti, where he and his family had been taken by speedboat in August 2013. He said a man named Amin Latouff, who was indicted along with Hernandez and Estrada, but who has not been arrested, booked him on the flight and gave him the passport, instructing Abreu to destroy the document on the plane. Abreu said he ordered a Heineken beer, tore the first page of the passport into pieces and swallowed them down.
"I could not arrive in the United States with a false passport," he said.
When Abreu arrived in Miami, the "wet foot, dry foot" Cuban-immigration policy, since rescinded by former President Barack Obama, allowed him to remain on American soil despite his lack of travel documents. Abreu testified that Total Baseball, Estrada's company, was to be paid 20 percent of his contract and that Hernandez was to receive 5 percent. Abreu, however, testified that it was his idea to get the illegal passport and that he asked Latouff for help in obtaining it.
"I trusted that he was someone who could help me," Abreu said, "and I confided in him that secret."
The White Sox gave Abreu time off from their Spring Training camp in Glendale, Ariz., to testify in the trial. His testimony is expected to conclude Thursday and he should return to camp Friday.(Anthony Castrovince /-MLB.com)
When Jose was asked about becoming a leader on the 2017 White Sox, his first response was, "I don't really know. You know, me and the people that know me know that I'm not that kind of guy who is going to answer that question," said a smiling Abreu through interpreter Billy Russo. "But if people see me as a leader, I'm glad and I feel honored by that.
"My intention is always to help the guys. I try to give them some advice. I try to find a way to help them to be better. That's one of my goals every day here with the team. If they say that I'm a leader, that's good, but it's not something I'm going to say about myself."
Abreu clearly leads by example. (Merkin - mlb.com - 3/17/17)
The next generation of White Sox hopefuls will likely be guided by Jose.
"Even though my English is not good, I've been trying to communicate with the young guys and with everybody," Abreu said through interpreter Billy Russo. "I think that's something good not just for them but for me to be more ... I don't want to say a leader, but like a mentor for them, because I have some experience, and I think that my knowledge can help them to do better, too."
Manager Rick Renteria sees Abreu evolving as a player, particularly in the locker room. In 2017, Abreu ranked just behind relievers Nate Jones and Jake Petricka and outfielder Avisail Garcia as the longest-tenured White Sox, and his voice has carried weight for the first-year skipper.
"He has been continuing to grow into that role," Renteria said. "He has taken a much more vocal role, communicating with players, his teammates. He has asserted himself extremely well. As he moves forward in his career and we continue to move forward and progress, it's natural for him to fill that spot."
"I'm here to help the team," Abreu said, "and if that means that I have to help the young players through that process to get to the level where they can be by themselves and perform as everybody expects for them to do it, I'd love to do it." (Ardaya - mlb.com - 7/28/17)
Sept 8, 2017: Jose Abreu couldn't sleep. The White Sox first baseman was thinking about his family, split between his hometown of Mal Tiempo in Cuba and in Miami, Florida, with both places being in the path of Hurricane Irma's potential devastation.
Hurricane Irma passed through Mal Tiempo between 3 and 5 a.m. CT, per Abreu, and his family is safe.
"They are good. Thank god, they are good. They are safe. It has been the last couple of hours were very stressful for me," said Abreu through interpreter Billy Russo. "My grandmother and my kid are there. But I could speak with them and they are OK. Now I'm just waiting for the Hurricane to touch base in Miami. My wife is there and I'm just hoping that the Hurricane can take another way." Abreu's parents are with his wife in Miami.
The family did not evacuate before the storm. "I built a house like a fort just to be aware of that hurricane, that season," Abreu said. "We all know that Miami is a very common place for a hurricane, but they are good and safe now. They are under protection." (S Merkin - MLB.com - Sept 9, 2017)
Sept 9, 2017: Helping others has been a common theme for Abreu, beyond his life as a father, son, husband and grandson. He also has made it a point to give back to the community as one of the most prominent players on the White Sox, earning his second straight nomination for the Roberto Clemente Award.
In 2015, Abreu developed a program called Abreu's Amigos in partnership with Easterseals Academy to provide "regular opportunities for students with special needs to develop social skills in a recreational setting through field trips to the ballpark," per the White Sox nomination of Abreu. Nearly 50 students have visited the ballpark through this program, with an additional 20 students scheduled to visit in 2017. Abreu also provides financial support for the program, including a $10,000 donation to kick it off during a baseball clinic on the school's White Sox Field."It means a lot," said Abreu of earning the White Sox' Clemente Award nomination for 2017. "I'm always trying to carry that legacy as best as I can, because that's something that for us, as a player, it has to be very special and important.
"We are here not just to play baseball. We are here also to impact and help other people. In my case, I'm glad to be able to help the kids and I want to thank the White Sox organization, because it has been through them that I was able to reach out to all those kids and at least to give them a little bit of joy to fill that void in their life. I take a lot of pride for that."
Abreu's knowledge of Robert Clemente comes primarily from reading about him. But he knows the impressive legacy created.
"I've read a lot about what he did and not just on the field but in the community," Abreu said. "I have to tell you something: he was special. He was special because of the way that he impacted the community, the way he helped people. I like to help people and especially kids because they are our future. I always like to help them and to bring them a little bit of joy." (S Merkin - MLB.com - Sept 10, 2017)
Feb 17, 2018: There's a row of lockers at the back of the Camelback Ranch White Sox clubhouse where Jose Abreu could have resided with other more veteran players like Avisail Garcia, Joakim Soria, James Shields and Nate Jones during 2018 Spring Training. Instead, Abreu chose to keep his locker just to the left of the entrance as people walk through the doors, with one caveat: Abreu wanted Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, his Cuban countrymen and top young prospects at the heart of the White Sox rebuild, to be next to him.
"I feel good because we are three Cubans here and I think that we can have fun," Moncada told reporters through interpreter Billy Russo. "Last year, I was with Abreu here and he taught me a lot. I hope to keep learning from him. Now this year, we have Robert, and I think that Abreu and I can teach him some things and we can help him get used to this process. I think it's going to be fun. I'm just excited."
Abreu arrived at camp sporting a beard. Moncada told reporters "he needs to shave." Aside from the new facial look, nothing has changed with the White Sox leader and voice of the team.
In this age of pinpoint and expert analytics, that mentor factor often gets overlooked or looked down upon. Some quipped during the offseason if players such as Moncada and Robert couldn't survive at the big league level without Abreu, who the White Sox hold two years of contractual control over, then maybe they don't have a Major League constitution.
But Abreu's presence for players like Moncada, Robert, Eloy Jimenez and many others isn't about reliance as much as it's about guidance. Abreu becomes the veteran who can explain different nuances of big league life, not to mention taking on more of the media responsibilities while the prospects learn how to fail and grow. It began in Spring Training last 2017 season for Abreu and Moncada and continued on even when Moncada went to Triple-A Charlotte. Now, Moncada can use what he learned from Abreu to assist Robert.
"When we worked together in the minicamp, I told him to hang in there," Moncada said of his advice to Robert. "He needs to have discipline in his work, and this is a very good organization, and then he's going to like it. I'm just excited for him to be here. I'm waiting for him to be here."
More veteran wisdom exists within the White Sox clubhouse beyond Abreu. Young pitchers and hitters alike have talked about Shields' shared knowledge, not to mention help from right-hander Miguel Gonzalez and Garcia to name a few. Abreu has proven to be one of the game's most potent middle-of-the-order hitters during his four-year-career, never dipping below 25 home runs, 100 RBIs, a .290 average or an .820 OPS in any single season. Moncada hopes to find similar production in his first season as the team's everyday second baseman.
"Last year 2017 when the team called me, I thought they just were going to give me a few chances to play at second base, but they gave me the opportunity to play every day and it was a really good experience," Moncada said. "This year, knowing that I'm going to be at second base every day, I'm going to feel more comfortable. I already have the experience." (S Merkin - MLB.com - Feb 17, 2018)
October 18, 2013: The White Sox and Abreu agreed to a six-year, $68 million contract—the largest initial free-agent contract given to an international player.
- Dec 18, 2016: Jose agreed to a one-year contract with the White Sox worth $10,825,000, avoiding salary arbitration.
- Jan 12, 2017: Jose and the White Sox avoided arbitration, agreeing to a one-year deal worth $13 million.
|Birth City:||Cruces, Cienfuegos, Cuba|
|Draft:||2003 - Cuban National Team|
|2013||-||did not play|
Abreu is the Cuban Barry Bonds. Take a look at his 2009-10 through 2011-12 numbers (above). Huge power numbers in only one-third of the at-bats for a full Major League Baseball season. Those three-season totals in 780 at-bats and 98 home runs! And he struck out only 121 times while walking 207 times. Incredible.
"I've seen a lot of great ones over my 32 years of professional baseball, and this is the first time that I’ve wanted to stand up and give a standing ovation after a batting practice,” White Sox executive VP Kenny Williams said when they signed him.
"He has a low maintenance, soft, quiet load of his hands,” Williams said. “And his lower half and his hands worked as well as I’ve seen a right-handed hitter’s hands work down through theball, and the ball explodes off his bat, but in a line-drive manner. When he hits the tape-measure shots, it’s almost as though he missed hitting a line drive and now he’s got backspin on the ball.”
But here is the skeptical take: He's a “slider speed bat” guy who will wear out back-of-the-rotation starters, but will have trouble against the Max Scherzers and Justin Verlanders of the world.
Abreu set a Cuban home run record in 2010-2011, with 33 dingers, and was named league MVP. He then broke his own record for homers during the 2011-2012 season, hitting 35. But Alfredo Despaigne hit 36 home runs for the new Cuban home run record.
Jose was hit by 30 pitches in both the 2008-09 season, and again in 2009-10. But he was hit by pitches only 21 times by pitches in 2010-11.
Abreu has outstanding raw power to all fields. He’s a smart hitter, his strong hands and forearms work well at the plate and he doesn’t have much effort in his righthanded swing. The question scouts have is whether he’s more than just a mistake hitter.
Abreu has an unorthodox setup with a double toe tap in his stride. He cuts himself off and has only fair bat speed, leaving him vulnerable to even average velocity inside. He can handle curveballs in the strike zone, but he was susceptible to chasing hard breaking stuff away.
He is an intelligent hitter without a lot of effort in in his swing and the power tohit 30-plus homers in a season. He has an unorthodox setup with a double toe tap in his stride, and some scouts consider his bat speed only fair, which they believe makes it hard for him to catch up to good velocity on the inner third of the plate.
Jose has a simple line-drive swing without too many moving parts, at least in his upper half. His swing lacks much of a trigger and his hands come from a dead start, but he has the strength to compensate and his bat stays in the hitting zone a long time. Some scouts worry about his double toe-tap stride and average bat speed, fearing they will inhibit his ability to catch up to premium velocity on the inner half.
- The White Sox knew what they had in Abreu, a Cuban defector whom they signed for $68 million. "You just hear it, the sound that comes off his bat when he hits it, especially going the other way," manager Robin Ventura said. "There's a few guys that have it; he's one that has it. The way it comes off his bat, the sound, the velocity it comes off his bat going the other way. In Spring Training, you see it a couple times and you take a second look real quick, making sure you're seeing the right thing. It's a gift."
It takes premium bat speed to cause that explosive sound, and that bat speed results from a combination of hitting assets. "It's his balance when he makes contact," Ventura said. "His thing is putting it on the barrel. But he's balanced when he does it. He does have bat speed. He has strength. When he makes contact, he's putting his whole body into it. He's in good position to make solid contact." (Etkin - mlb.com - 4/9/14)
In April 2014, Abreu became the first White Sox rookie with two multi-HR games in a three-game span since 1934 (Zeke Bonura).
- Abreu looks very confident at the plate hitting any type pitch. His plate discipline and pitch recognition are advanced. He never appears to be unsettled, rattled or overwhelmed by breaking balls. He can hit some massive home runs by using his strong hands and lower body to generate his power.
Abreu sets up close to the plate and has been a target of inside pitches, having been hit by pitches consistently in his Cuban baseball career. His outstanding baseball instincts provide a foundation for his success. Abreu knows the nuances of the game and hitting comes naturally to him. Once he learns the Major League pitchers, he'll be even more comfortable.
Abreu doesn't show the best bat speed in the game, but his power is enough to offset any lack of quickness in getting his hands through the ball. If he sees the pitch well, he has no problem using the entire field and taking the pitch where it is thrown. Abreu keeps his swing simple and uncomplicated, letting his muscular forearms and hands guide the ball.
Two major tools highlight Abreu's skill set. He can hit for average and he can hit for power. Abreu doesn't run well and he doesn't have a strong arm. However, what he lacks in those areas, he makes up for in offensive firepower. (Pleskoff - mlb.com - 4/11/14)
"Abreu's a guy that you can get out if you make pitches, but you better not make mistakes," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said of Abreu. "It seems like he's quiet, kind of sneaky strong. He's smooth up there, so it looks like he just kind of sees the ball. Seems to be legit."
As White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson pointed out, even hitters flirting with .400 make outs, and there's always room for improvement. That Abreu improvement comes from figuring out how they are getting him out, learning to combat that and then coming back with a better plan.
"If they get you out, did they get you out or did you get yourself out?" Steverson said. "Once you come to grips with the majority of time I got myself out because that ball was not a strike or [the pitcher's] strike, then I can say, 'OK, they are all going to make a mistake. Maybe not every at-bat, but at some point, they are going to make their mistakes.'
"Through the course of how many thousand pitches you are going to see through the course of the year, you have to be ready for them. He's a little different, because he does like to use the whole field. He goes the other way.
"To make him happier right now, we still will be able to use that base hit to right like he got, or double to right-center. And he's still being able to pull a hanging breaking ball or inside fastball and still be up to dust off some of the pitchers' pitches on two strikes rather than going down. And make better decisions. On that level, there's always room for improvement." (Merkin - mlb.com - 6/4/14)
April 2014: Abreu had 31 RBIs for the month. That total set the Major League Baseball rookie record for April, which he previously shared with Albert Pujols, who had 27 in 2001.
Abreu has enjoyed everything about Chicago during his first year with the White Sox, from his teammates to the fans to the local restaurants. Hitting at U.S. Cellular Field ranks near the top of that list for the rookie sensation.
"It's a place that I think any player would want to be to hit," said Abreu, through interpreter and White Sox manager of cultural development Lino Diaz. "I really enjoy hitting here and I'm very glad that it ended up being this place that I ended up in. Everything has worked out pretty good and we are happy to be here."
Showing his true humble, appreciative nature once again, Abreu added that having the comforts of home doesn't necessarily make a difference with his game, because the hotels the team stays at on the road are very nice. Abreu simply has found a home at U.S. Cellular.
"One of the things is that whatever you hit the ball here, it can go out," Abreu said. "You have a chance to go out anywhere in here. Not only to left, but to right and center. Hitting in this field is comfortable. It's appealing.
"You can see the ball well. That's one of the things I really like." (Scott Merkin, MLB.com, 6/14/2014)
July 2014: Abreu's home run count, 29, is second-highest in history by a rookie before the break, trailing only Mark McGwire's 33 in 1987. And it's the third-highest total in White Sox history, behind Frank Thomas (32 in 1994) and Jim Thome (30 in 2006). (Editor's note: And he missed two weeks in May on the D.L.)
September 13, 2014: With one fifth-inning swing of the bat by Abreu, during the White Sox 7-6 Game 2 victory over the Twins, the rookie designated hitter ended a long home run drought and made history at the same time.
Abreu's 34th home run, traveling 411 feet to center field off Minnesota's Logan Darnell, snapped a stretch of 69 at-bats, 80 plate appearances and 18 games without going deep. He joins Hal Trosky (1934), Ted Williams (1939) and Albert Pujols (2001) as the only rookies in Major League history to record at least 30 doubles, 30 homers and 100 RBIs.
The homer moved Abreu within one of the single-season White Sox rookie home run record, set by Ron Kittle at 35 in 1983. He also became the fourth rookie in White Sox history to reach 100 RBIs, joining Kittle (100 in 1983), Smead Jolley (114 in 1930) and Zeke Bonura (110 in 1934). He finished the season with 36 homers. (Scott Merkin - MLB.com - 9/14/2014)
Truth is simple, error is complicated. It is simply one of the "truths of life." It works for everyone.
“It’s a pretty simple swing,” White Sox assistant to G.M. in charge of international operations, Marco Paddy said in 2014. “There was no interruption, no leg lift or anything, just a small lower half load with his front knee and then the bat is in position to hit right away. There weren’t any hitches. He just stood there, watched the ball, did his lower half load and his hands came right to the ball.
"He lets the ball travel as far as he could. I think sometimes you can be deceived by that. “With his lower half load, there wasn’t any leg lift kick, he didn’t dive into the ball—his lower half was pretty stiff already. He just did a little hip load, turned his knee in and his hands came through.
"It's a pretty simple approach. Sometimes you commit too soon, but he’d just stand there and let the ball travel and let his hands come through. And 93-94 mph didn't faze him at all," Paddy, who did most of the scouting of Abreu for the White Sox.
2014 season: Abreu topped all big league hitters with his .581 slugging percentage and finished second to Victor Martinez with a .964 OPS.
His 36 homers set a White Sox single-season rookie record and left Abreu tied for third with Mike Trout in the AL. His 107 RBIs placed Abreu fourth, and his .317 batting average ranked him fifth in the AL.
Jose has turned out to be one of the best fastball hitters in the Majors. Against pitches of 95 mph or better, Abreu hit .325, according to Baseballsavant.com. By pitch type linear weights at FanGraphs, among qualified hitters, Abreu had the best results against fastballs of anyone in 2014.
May 23, 2017: Abreu joined Minnie Minoso (135) and Alexei Ramirez (109) as the only Cuban-born White Sox players to hit 100 homers.
Aug 12, 2017: The month of August, 2017 took a record-setting turn for White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu during a 5-4 loss to the Royals. Abreu homered in the fourth and sixth innings off Royals starter Ian Kennedy, giving Abreu 21 homers on the season. With those long drives, he became the first player in White Sox history to start his Major League career with four consecutive 20-plus homer seasons.
"I'm happy for that fact," Abreu said through interpreter Billy Russo. "I'm happy because it's something that makes you feel that your work has been for a purpose
"And I'm happy because I could accomplish this with the support of my family, the support of my teammates and the support of all the people that have been around me during this time in this organization. Most importantly, I want to thank God. I could do that because I've been healthy and that's the most important.
"If you are healthy, you can do good things. You can't do anything if you are not healthy." (S Merkin - MLB.co - Aug 13, 2017)
August 21, 2017: In the first game of his team's doubleheader with the Twins, White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu swatted his 25th home run of the season.
With that home run, Abreu became the only player in ChiSox history to go deep 25-plus times in each of his four big league seasons.
September 19, 2017: Abreu hit for the cycle against the Giants.
- September 23, 2017: Abreu became the third player in Major League history to start his career with four straight seasons of at least 25 home runs and 100 RBIs.
- As of the start of the 2018 season, Jose's career Major League stats were: .301 batting average, 124 home runs and 726 hits, with 410 RBI in 2,414 at-bats.
- Jose is limited to first base.
Jose's reaction time and reflexes at first base are goals and targets for improvement. That said, Abreu will be able to perform his defensive role just fine. He doesn't really profile to play any other defensive position.
He may be a designated hitter in the future.
- Jose is slow. But he doesn't clog the bases.
2010-11: Abreu missed 23 games during the season due to bursitis in his shoulder. If he had not missed so much time, he most assuredly would have won a Triple Crown. Jose led the league in average, slugging (a whopping .212 over runner-up Frederich Cepeda), intentional walks (21), and homers (tied with Yoenis Céspedes). He was second in RBI (6 behind Céspedes).
May 18-June 2, 2014: Jose was on the D.L. with tendinitis in his left ankle. He was diagnosed with posterior tibia tendinitis in the ankle. He was prescribed rest for his inflamed left ankle. But before that, he was in a walking boot. An MRI showed no structural damage.
Abreu had dealt with an injury to the same ankle in spring training but played through that problem. And Jose had tried to play through this problem, but it had been bothering him for a week when an awkward swing seemed to cause him more pain, and so he went on the D.L.