Another month, another award or two for Jose Abreu. Yawn.
Thanks to an incredible July, Abreu was named American League Rookie of the Month for the third time, and Player of the Month for the second. It's hard to argue with the honors considering he put together his best effort yet. Abreu hit .374/.432/.667 during July, maintaining his league lead in homers while taking over the top spot in RBIs.
In talking about the centerpiece of his lineup, Robin Ventura said Abreu has room to improve even if he theoretically doesn't:
"There is a limit of what guys are going to hit, statistically," said manager Robin Ventura. "But within the game of driving in runs and things like that, he's pretty good, and he's going to continue to get better at that in-game stuff."
This doesn't sound possible, but it might be, and his effect on imaginations is what sets him apart.
Take Adam Eaton, who, if Abreu didn't exist, would be drawing most of the press right now. He's hitting .358/.429/.482 over the last two months, and he's been even hotter of late (.471/.526/.557 in the second half). Those numbers are incredible ... but they're not unfathomable.
After all, Eaton hit .381/.456/.539 as a 23-year-old in Triple-A Reno. Maybe PCL stats don't directly translate to the big leagues, but he had the ingredients of a bona fide leadoff man, and the scouting reports to match. Sure enough, he's flipping, spraying, slapping, chopping, bunting and walking his way on base. He's doing so at an astonishing rate, but it's within the bounds of his ability. In other words, the Sox are getting The Best Possible.
Abreu, on the other hand, came to the Sox more loosely defined. He only had insane Cuban numbers that broke the Davenport translations and scouting reports against questionable competition, the combination of which invited a wide range of speculation and interpretation. Jonah Keri called him "the best hitter you've never seen" in 2012, and said that if U.S.-Cuban relations ever normalize, Abreu could be the last great player to drop into the big leagues with zero context:
So let’s enjoy Jose Abreu while we still can. Let’s dream on a hitter so big, so powerful, he just might be better than anyone else on Earth. The information explosion has made us more knowledgeable sports fans than we could have ever imagined. But it’s OK to root for a mystery. Especially if it’s one of the last ones we ever see.
He came to the States with a low blanket of clouds hiding his potential. Did his peak look like Mount Washington? Mount Rainier? Mount Everest? Projections said one thing, probability said another, and good luck finding a Sherpa who could break the tie.
Four months into his first season, Abreu has experienced incredible success while still preserving the mystery. The cover has lifted somewhat, and yet we still don't know what we're dealing with. His splits keep going up, up, up:
He started out as "the game's best old-fashioned slugger," but that initial complimentary observation now looks quaint and dated, if not obsolete. He raised his average over .300 at no real cost to his power. He hit in 39 of 40 games. He went 30 plate appearances without striking out. He's taking more walks. Yes, a good chunk are intentional, but he's doing a better job at sniffing out the waste pitches and pitch-arounds, which is why opponents take fewer chances these days.
Had Abreu hovered around his April production, maybe with some mild improvements that come with building a memory, I'm guessing Sox fans would've been thrilled. But guarded optimism gave way to excitement, which encouraged hyperbole ... and maybe he's outpacing that, too.
It's a testament to his strength that after 424 looks with these results, he still might be hiding some unrealized potential. The explorers on this journey are betting on this incredible ascent ending soon, but they're now starting to wonder which one of them would be the most delicious, you know, if it came to that point. And I mean that in the best way possible.