CHICAGO – As much as he has been encouraged about the improved recent play of late at the big-league level, general manager Rick Hahn realizes most of the players expected to help the White Sox contend in the future are still in the minors.
“We’re excited about the fact we have six Southern League All-Stars, we have five Carolina League All-Stars, and seven Sally League All-Stars,” Hahn said. “That’s a nice little haul, a nice little reinforcement that things are headed the right way for the future.”
Outfielder Eloy Jimenez, catchers Zack Collins and Seby Zavala, shortstop Danny Mendick, starting pitcher Dane Dunning and reliever Ian Hamilton are the six Southern League All-Stars from Double-A Birmingham.
Outfielders Luis Alexander Basabe and Joel Booker, starters Dylan Cease and Bernardo Flores and relief pitcher Matt Foster are going to represent high Single-A Winston-Salem in the Carolina League All-Star Game.
In the Southern Atlantic League, low A Kannapolis outfielders Luis Gonzalez and Craig Dedelow, second baseman Tate Blackman, shortstop Laz Rivera, starter Blake Battenfield and relievers Tyler Johnson and Jake Elliot are All-Stars.
As for the Sox, they’re only expected to send one player to the July 17 All-Star Game at Nationals Park in Washington.
Jose Abreu is the overwhelmingly obvious choice, and he leads American League first basemen in early voting.
Abreu has 267,812 votes, ahead of the Boston’s Mitch Moreland (241,889) and Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera (173,174).
To say the strong likelihood of playing in his second All-Star Game is a distraction for Abreu would be inaccurate.
“You know me, guys,” Abreu said through Sox interpreter Billy Russo. “I’m just thinking about ways to help this team win games. To be comfortable at the plate, taking care of the at-bats, driving runs in. If that (All-Star) happens, that is going to be good, but I’m not thinking about that right now.”
Abreu does have fond memories of his first All-Star Game, which came in his rookie season (2014) with the Sox.
“You work for it, and at that time it was recognition for all my work and for the journey to come to the U.S. and the majors,” Abreu said. “One of the best moments was when I met Derek Jeter. He was in his retirement year and it was a very special moment for me.
“Just being there, being around great players and having the opportunity to share the field and locker room with them was very special.”
Abreu is most likely going to play for a Sox team that finishes with a losing record for the fifth time in as many years, but he is having another special individual season.
Heading into Tuesday night’s game against the Cleveland Indians at Guaranteed Rate Field, Abreu led the Sox in batting (.289), RBIs (38) and OPS (.859). He also ranked second in the majors with 25 doubles.
“The opportunity to work with him every day is something really special,” teammate Yoan Moncada said. “He likes to work and you are always learning from him, the things that he does, how he handles himself, his routine. That’s something that you really appreciate. I always thank him for having me, allowing me to be close to him.
“For him, it’s going to be a really big honor to be in the All-Star Game and be in the All-Star Game fans voting. That will be something really, really good.”
At 31, there still are expectations that Abreu is going to be traded sometime before next season’s July 31 nonwaiver deadline.
Signed through 2019, Abreu has hit 25 or more homers and driven in at least 100 runs in each of his first four full seasons.
“We’ve made no secret about our affection for Jose, and it’s not just based upon the contribution between the white lines,” Hahn said. “It’s based on what he does in that clubhouse.
“I don’t think there’s a finer representative for what it means to be a White Sox or what we hope for our players to be on and off the field than what Jose Abreu provides us.
“Again, we don’t have to make any decisions on how he fits for the long term for a little while now. He’s under control through the end of next season. If at that point, before that point, if we haven’t come to terms on an extension we certainly will have time then to revisit that.”
Abreu gave an expected answer Tuesday when asked about his future with the Sox.
“Right now, I am with this organization,” he said. “I am glad and really grateful for everything this organization has done for me. I would like to stay here forever, but right now I am just taking advantage of every moment, every game that I spend with this team. Hopefully, I can stay here my whole career.”