There are hot starts, and then there's Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu's month of April.
As of Monday, April 28, Abreu was on track for 62 homers, 193 RBI and 125 runs scored this season. The Cuban rookie had homered in six of his last eight games, recorded three multi-homer games and set the rookie record for homers and RBI through the end of April.
Needless to say, Abreu is rewarding fantasy owners who took the risk of drafting him despite his lack of MLB playing time.
The question now becomes whether Abreu can maintain his impressive performance, something fellow Cuban Yasiel Puig was unable to do last season with his dramatic falloff in the second half. But even though Abreu and Puig come from the same country, they're far different baseball players.
A couple aspects of Abreu's game stand out in particular. Most importantly, he's an excellent opposite-field hitter. Before the season started, Eduardo Perez, a Baseball Tonight analyst who managed against Abreu in the 2009 World Cup, talked about Abreu's ability to go the other way. Perez said Abreu is a "pure hitter who uses the entire field. Throw him something away, and he will go the other way...with authority." Perez also compared Abreu's power to the opposite field to that of Albert Pujols, whose first-month rookie record for homers and RBI was recently surpassed by Abreu.
The numbers certainly back up Perez's statement. According to ESPN Stats & Info, eight of Abreu's 10 home runs this season have come against pitches on the outer half of the plate or off the outside corner. That ability to go the other way is key for maintaining success as a power hitter, as big league pitchers inevitably find ways to exploit hitters who can only pull the ball for power–à la Curtis Granderson.
Even so, while Abreu's primary value comes in his pop, he's not your typical Adam Dunn or Jack Cust-esque slugger who does one of three things (homer, walk, strike out) at the plate. At least, that's what Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon believes, via the Chicago Tribune's Fred Mitchell:
"Really a big, strong fellow with a controlled attitude at the plate," Maddon said after Friday night's game. "He's not just a wild swinger. You have to make good pitches or he is going to hurt you."
Still, can Abreu really keep it up? It's hard to believe that he'll fulfill his 62-homer, 193-RBI projections. Yet, would it really surprise you?
For one, Abreu put up eye-popping numbers in Cuba, including his outrageous 2010-11 season, during which he hit 33 home runs with 93 RBI and 79 runs scored, along with a .453/.597/.986 slash line...in 66 games. We know what he's capable of (albeit at a lower level of play), so why couldn't he hit 60 homers? Admittedly, it's a long shot, but with his power to all parts of the ballpark, the proclaimed support of managers and players across the league, and an ability to go on torrid stretches while exhibiting ridiculous power, I'm sold on Jose Abreu. You should be too.