Joe Maddon puts Abreu in elite company

CHICAGO -- Teammates, coaches and even the pundits have all weighed in on Jose Abreu’s start for the Chicago White Sox, and the reviews have been flattering.

On Monday, colorful Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon expressed his admiration. In fact, Maddon is impressed by everybody wearing a White Sox uniform this season, something he couldn’t exactly say last season.

The word is out on Abreu all around the league, but seeing the 26-year-old rookie in person and having him do some damage against you is something else entirely. Maddon is already comfortable putting Abreu up there with some of the better impact players in the game.

"[It’s like] when Detroit acquires Miguel Cabrera, you know? Or Mike Trout surfaces in Anaheim," Maddon said before Monday’s game. "There’s always these prodigy kind of players out there, that when they show up it’s a combination of great work ethic, calm and an ability to go out there and perform. That’s what I see with him.

"I’ve heard about his work ethic. He’s extremely calm. Coming where he came from, and what he’s probably seen before he got here, this is, you know, 30,000 people is not going to bother him. Plus, he probably doesn’t understand them anyway, so it all works in his favor. Plus, he's really talented. He's really talented."

On Friday, Abreu hit two home runs, including a game-ending grand slam. On Sunday, he had a home run to go along with four RBIs. Somewhere in between, White Sox manager Robin Ventura gave Maddon a bottle of wine from a winery in his hometown of Santa Maria, Calif.

If that's how Ventura plans to smooth things over with opposing managers, he better call ahead for more cases of wine.

A four-game series that started on Friday has given Maddon plenty of time to see these new White Sox up close and personal, and he seems amazed by the team’s transformation after losing 99 games a season ago.

"There’s a grittiness about them right now," Maddon said. "I'm not saying they did this last year, [but] they're not mailing anything in. Their at-bats are really sound right now. Pitching wise, like, you bring up a [Scott] Carroll and, all of a sudden, he throws a great game against you also. [John] Danks, I hadn’t seen him in a while. I thought he pitched well the other night also. Their bullpen, they’ve got some physical arms in the bullpen. They have some really nice arms."

It’s the offense, though, that has Maddon impressed the most.

"When you’re hitting [Alexei] Ramirez, what, sixth right now? I mean, Ramirez is hitting sixth. That says something. And [Adam] Eaton gives you a component at the top of the lineup that you haven’t had in a while, with that kind of eagerness and speed. It’s different. And he’s definitely a high-energy guy. [Tyler] Flowers, to me, is a different player. Looks like he lost some weight. He looks to me like he’s in better shape. He’s got a better approach at the plate. He’s a different player. I mean, [Dayan] Viciedo, all the group; [Adam] Dunn looks good."

But it’s one player in particular who continues to get Maddon talking.

"Saying all that, the guy at first base makes all the difference," Maddon said about Abreu. "One guy can make that kind of an impact on a team."