Ventura banking on Cuban precedent

CHICAGO -- Chicago White Sox manager Robin Ventura pointed to the production of Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig as a sign that his new first baseman, Jose Abreu, can help turn around an offense that was among the worst in baseball this past season.

Speaking via conference call Tuesday not long after the White Sox made the Abreu signing official, Ventura said he believes the club’s new addition from Cuba can follow the trail blazed by Cuban natives like Cespedes of the Oakland Athletics and Puig of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

“It’s an adjustment for anybody but (Abreu) is playing against some pretty good talent (in Cuba),’ Ventura said. “You go by the precedent that has been set by guys that have come over recently, Cespedes and Puig, that where he’s playing and what you’re seeing can translate into the major leagues.

“What and how much, that’s up to him and how he produces. It’s the opportunity for him. Instead of just thinking it’s risky, it’s risky to have any free agent, but you’re going by his age and the future and what you’re willing to go after. He’s going to have an opportunity and hopefully he’ll be fun to watch.”

The 26-year-old Abreu is generally considered to be a better all-around hitter than both Cespedes and Puig. Over the last four seasons in Cuba, including postseason appearances, Abreu batted .392 and averaged 33 home runs a year.

White Sox executive vice president Kenny Williams and international scouting director Marco Paddy signed off on the decision to pursue Abreu after both were wowed during a recent workout. Ventura’s knowledge on Abreu, for now, comes from what he has heard rather than what he has witnessed for himself.

“Most of (the information) you’re going to get info from scouts and I’ve seen stuff on video,” Ventura said. “But again you go by reports from Kenny, who has seen him, and our scouts who have seen him. I know he has power, but watching (World Baseball Classic) games, he’s more polished than just a power hitter. That’s exciting.”

The White Sox have yet to commit to a spot for Abreu in the batting order, but Ventura seems set on batting him anywhere from third to fifth.

“You’d like to have signed him knowing we were looking for something in the middle of the order,” Ventura said. “Ideally that’s where we you’d like him to be. That’s subject to change. We’ll look at it when we go to spring training and you see who we have and how flexible we can be with people moving around. For him, we signed him to be somewhere in the middle of the lineup so ideally that’s where you’d like to see him.”

Since the middle of this past season the White Sox have been able to revamp the heart of the order -- first with the late-July acquisition of 22-year-old Avisail Garcia and now with the signing of Abreu.

“You’re getting players at an age when you’re not just seeing them for one year and it’s a stop-gap thing,” Ventura said. “We’re looking more for helping us now and in the future. I think (general manager) Rick (Hahn) has done a great job of being able to do that, navigating through the trade deadline and this, before the (domestic) free agent market is really open for business.”

As for the widely-reported hiring of Ted Steverson as the White Sox’s new hitting coach, Ventura said he would wait for that move to become official before making a comment.

Ventura did say that he took an active role in the process to bring aboard the new coach.

“I was doing interviews,” Ventura said. “Rick kind of had been doing the early ones and when you narrow things down you start doing more interviews. I was definitely involved in it.”