By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Jose Abreu will be much more than just an All-Star-caliber first baseman for the White Sox going forward. The 30-year-old Abreu will now be the baseball godfather for fellow Cubans Luis Robert and Yoan Moncada, two high-profile prospects who hopefully become the future faces of the organization.
Although the White Sox have Abreu under contract control for two more years after 2017, his next 12 months of mentorship to Moncada and Robert will be just as crucial for the team’s future as his ability to drive in runs on the field.
“Jose has been here a while now,” manager Rick Renteria said. “For him to touch the young players when they get up here is impactful. Sometimes a good word from another player goes further with a young guy. You need all of those dynamics to help in the player’s development.”
The road from Cuba to the United States isn’t a clear path for defectors, who must leave family and friends behind in pursuit of fame and fortune. The language barrier is also different for the Cuban ballplayer. Picking up English has been a challenge for many, like Abreu himself.
“I am excited about having the opportunity,” Abreu said about his role as patron and advisor for the young players, as told through translator Billy Russo. “That is something I like to do. Get with the guys and tell them what to do for their betterment. That is something I have been doing with Moncada. Now I am waiting for the opportunity to work with (Robert).”
Abreu has been hitting the ball hard and with authority the last four weeks. Another All-Star Game berth appears on the cusp for the friendly Abreu, whose country pride and message to the Cuban connection from the Minnie Minoso era until now were a huge selling point to the 19-yer-old Robert, who officially was signed Saturday.
“The main thing I told him is to surround himself with good people,” Abreu said of Robert. “He needs to be around good people to help guide him, too. It makes me very happy and proud (to see this tradition of players Cuban players continue in Chicago), not just for the organization but for my heritage. This is an excellent organization who is always trying to take care of the Cuban players. I also have huge respect for Minnie Minoso. He was the first one to help open some doors here with the White Sox.”
Abreu opted out of his six-year $68-million long-term deal last November, meaning he’ll have two years of salary arbitration left after 2017 before he becomes a free agent.
So is staying in the White Sox organization the goal for Abreu?
“All I can think about right now is this year,” Abreu said. “Winning this year is the number one thing. What will be in the future will be in the future. Of course, a White Sox forever, that is something I can’t control right now. I can only control playing and doing my best. I, of course, would like to stay with the White Sox forever.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.