Hitting coach Steverson encouraged by minicamp
Plate prowess of Cuban slugger Abreu, new White Sox additions highlight storylines
CHICAGO -- Numerous top White Sox prospects and slightly more veteran young players who figure to play a significant big league role in 2014 took part in a three-day minicamp that ended Thursday at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz.
But the first question for first-year White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson during a Friday afternoon conference call had to do with Jose Abreu. So did the second question, and the third and the fourth.
Abreu, who agreed to a six-year, $68 million deal with the White Sox as a free agent coming from Cuba during this offseason, looms large at the center of the team's reshaping process coming off of a 99-loss '13 campaign. He also stands as a 6-foot-3, 255-pound somewhat unknown because many people in the United States have seen him primarily on video.
Steverson understands that early team judgments made on Abreu solely are based on workouts and practice. General manager Rick Hahn made that same cautionary point earlier this week from the minicamp.
Based on what they watched, though, the White Sox are excited about their investment.
One strong suit already shown by Abreu is the regular plan and routine he follows in everything from work in the batting cages to live BP. It's a necessary sort of routine talked about recently by White Sox Arizona Rookie League manager Mike Gellinger when assessing part of what made Frank Thomas a Hall of Famer.
All good hitters have a daily plan they follow, one that is refined over time. Steverson saw some of that focus from Abreu in his very first day on Tuesday.
"It was about 41 degrees out there and it was about 7:30 in the morning," Steverson said. "We were not going until 9, but he walked in with his bat and gloves and wanted to go straight to the cage. It was freezing out there, but he didn't care. He wanted to work."
A bit of a language barrier exists presently with Abreu. In English, Spanish or any language, these last few days showed baseball clearly is the right-handed-hitting slugger's game.
"Just talking with friends of mine around the game, scouts who saw him doing workouts in the Dominican, I already had a notion of what they saw," said Steverson of Abreu. "I trust a lot of those guys, but he looked better than what I thought. He's a very serious hitter. He has a plan and idea of how he goes about what he's doing. And as I said before, he's a strong man."
If Abreu serves as one representative for a bright White Sox future, then Paul Konerko symbolizes the successful past. The White Sox captain took part in the minicamp, specifically to get some work in but also to meet and greet the new additions.
Konerko's input will be valuable to the younger core he interacted with at Camelback as part of his part-time/mentor role during the 16th and final season he will spend with the White Sox.
"Paulie has been a big part of the White Sox for the last 13-plus years now, and he has a high influence on [the younger players] in terms of what he's been through," said Steverson, who added that Konerko certainly knows how to get himself ready for a season at this accomplished stage of his career. "He will have a good influence in the clubhouse. He can explain everything he's gone through already."
Outfielder Adam Eaton and third baseman Matt Davidson, new additions to the White Sox who were at Camelback Ranch, earned praise from Steverson as well. He called them two great additions from the front office, pointing to Eaton's scrappiness and his willingness to do whatever it takes to get on base at the top of the order.
Davidson was described by Steverson as more of a corner-power guy with a "ton of pop." Steverson liked the way Davidson used the entire field during his workouts.
These three days represented the early stages of Steverson teaching his hitting philosophy. Whether it's a potential breakout talent such as the 26-year-old Abreu or an organization staple such as Konerko, the song remains the same for Steverson.
Good things come from swinging at strikes.
"I'll say it time and time again: Your best swings are going to be off strikes," Steverson said. "Your best approaches, everything you want to have happen positive, comes off balls handled in the strike zone.
"The more time we make pitchers work to get outs in the zone, the better off we will be. It's a reality thing. I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel. It's no secret that we were not very disciplined as an offensive club last year, and when you are swinging at balls out of the zone, sometimes you get a hit. But when you stay in the zone and put the balls in play you are supposed to put in play, you'll have better results.
"With everything we did [this past week] -- through BP, soft toss -- we asked the question: 'Are you swinging at strikes?'" Steverson said. "They will get it."