How Jose Abreu’s Career in Cuba Reflects His Future MLB Success

Before coming to the MLB and smashing 20 home runs in just his first 58 games, Jose Abreu had a prolific career in the Cuban Baseball National Series (Cuba’s top championship), starting at the very early age of 16, when he would play at first, second, third or in the outfield. While doing so, he averaged .271 with five homers and 21 RBIs in 71 games. He seemed like a very hot prospect, taking into account how old he was (or how young, for that matter), and for that very short stretch (say for the 2003-04 and the 2004-05 seasons) he seemed overpowered by pitchers, some of whom were old enough to be his father. From then on, he owned them.

For his career in Cuba, Abreu fell shy 16 homers of 200 in ten seasons. Yet, it was his youth that kept him from getting them early season-wise. Up to his 21-year-old season, his career-high in dingers was 13 (that very year) and had collected more than ten only once (11 in 2005-06), when he had what could be called his breakthrough year, hitting .337, with 105 hits and 64 RBIs in 84 games.

After that, he literally became a threat for opposing pitchers, to the point of hitting 142 dingers in his final five seasons in Cuba (he had managed only 42 in his first five), averaging 28.4 homers a season. He also improved his plate discipline, drawing 297 of his 394 career walks during that time, although he was hit by an astounding 129 pitches (out of his 198 career HBP), which accounts for 25.8 beanballs per season in his last five years in Cuba.

Meanwhile, his strikeout rates remained similar, except for the extraterrestrial 2010-11 season, when he hit .448 with a career-high 37 blasts and 98 runs batted in, in just 77 games and 252 at bats. Yes, you did the math right: that’s a homer every 6.8 times at bat. Needless to say, he posted an OPS of over 1.000 in all of those five seasons (his career OPS in Cuba reached to 1.078, out of a comic book).

While hitting 42 homers in 1259 at bats during his first five years (ages 16 to 21), meaning a homer very 29.98 AB, he was considered a hot prospect. Yet, it was as his HR total soared to 184 that he became fearsome. That is, hitting a homer every 10.05 at bats, for a career rate of a dinger every 14.58 official times at bat for his career in the National Series.

He had shown growth, maturity and power. Boy, raw power, ready to have his swing and technique polished for Major League pitching.

And there he is now, in the Major Leagues, punishing rival hurler after rival hurler, chasing the top HR hitters of the American League even after missing about two weeks following an injury. Yes, he owns them too. Forget, his .269 batting average, forget the high strikeout rates (65 Ks in 58 games) and forget the low plate discipline (just 15 walks and a swing rate of 55.6%). Those things can be polished, refined, perfected. Take a look at his power. That is 20 homers in 58 games, in 227 times at bat. That is, if math does not betray me, one every 11.35 at bats. Forget his cartoonish career in Cuba. He is just getting better.

What to expect?

Other than an increase in his batting average and his walks, and maybe a drop in his HR rates and his K rates (not too perceptible, I may say). He might end up hitting about .275 with a home-run total somewhere between 40 and 50. His K rate might go down, but not too much — at least, not for this season — while he might see more bases on balls coming his way.

The power, that one skill that drove the Chicago White Sox to pay him $68M for six years, and that one skill that made people call him “The Cuban Barry Bonds” while in the World Baseball Classic, is there. And that cannot be erased overnight.

Born in the Cuban city of Holguin, in 1983, and majored in English and French, found the passion of baseball at 10 years of age, when first attended a game. Since 2008, been publishing on baseball-related topics in different Cuban sites until April 2010, when the Universo Béisbol blog and magazine came to life. Been head editor of the monthly magazine while continuing to write on the blog since.

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Yuko Takizawa
9 years ago

Japan and Cuba doesn’t have the same environment.
Climate, pitcher, fielder, cheer etc….
There are many differences.
I think it is important for professional players not to forget the fun of baseball to leave a good grades.
I want them to remember the fun of baseball WHEREVER THEY ARE.
And everyone is a amateur when he begin to play baseball.
I am happy now,
because Japanese and Cubans in the same Baseball team.

9 years ago

You’re going to discount high strikeouts and poor plate discipline, but somehow not discount his homerun pace? Okay then.

9 years ago

As of today (July 2, 2014) Abreu has 26 HR and 68 RBI’s. Yes he’ll be walked more and pitched around but he’s proven he can hit good pitches as well as mistakes…if he remains healthy it’s hard to imagine him not hitting 40 plus and likely breaking the record for HR’s by a rookie.