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Gavin’s *Other* Dad: The Abreu Effect

Pito mentors everyone, but the resemblance to him Gavin Sheets has taken is nothing short of remarkable.

Chicago White Sox v Baltimore Orioles
José Abreu’s mentoring extends to every White Sox player, including 2021 rookie Gavin Sheets.
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

There are a few simple facts you can find out about Gavin Sheets from a quick Google search.

He’s left-handed, born in Maryland, plays for the Chicago White Sox, has 11 home runs in just 170 plate appearances, and personally buys his own sheets at Bed Bath & Beyond. Oh, and his dad, Larry, played 748 games in the majors over an eight-year career and was himself quite a prodigious slugger.

It’s not at all surprising to see the latest model Sheets looking and acting like a longtime big leaguer, even though he’s just barely eclipsed the 50-game mark. Larry certainly deserves his share of credit, but his son has seemingly found a new source of parental guidance in the form of the team’s current first baseman, reigning MVP, and unofficial captain: José Abreu.

In the aftermath of last Monday’s game in Detroit, with José being hit for the 22nd time this season, the game escalated into a potentially-dangerous, bench-clearing melee. With Abreu himself uncharacteristically having gone full Bruce Banner, Larry’s son proved to be the true Hulk, physically lifting all 6´3´´ and 235 pounds of Cuban muscle off of the ground and carrying him away from the scrum with ease.

Asked later by ESPN’s Connor McKnight about the events in Detroit, Sheets described his captain as having “been like a second father” to both he and fellow rookie Andrew Vaughn during their young careers. This is not a new concept, if you have at all followed the White Sox through the current rebuild at any point.

From Tim Anderson and Eloy Jiménez, to Yoán Moncada and Luis Robert, every single young player who has landed on the White Sox roster has been helped in some way by the veteran’s leadership. By the sheer volume of platitudes alone, Abreu is quickly approaching the kind of unconditional love previously reserved only for Hawk Harrelson’s lectures on Carl Yastrzemski. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone, even opponents, having much bad to say about Abreu’s game, or approach.

Abreu takes on a mentor role with almost all the players on the team, but it’s hard not to see a lot of similarities between the mostly-quiet, ultra-professional, business-like approach of José and guys like Vaughn — and particularly, Sheets.

Outside of the fact that they both share the same natural defensive position, the two also have a more reserved style in approaching the game, as well as a propensity for big offense in big moments. Unlike a lot of his younger teammates, Sheets was not a first round selection by the White Sox. Instead, he took a little longer in his development after being chosen with the 49th pick (second round) of the 2017 draft.

Without the elite athleticism of his peers, Sheets has had to rely much more on preparation and the mental side, staying ready to contribute even in limited opportunities. This is where the tutelage of a player of Abreu’s caliber goes far beyond any discernible value. Abreu’s preparation and work ethic have been the hallmarks of both his offensive excellence and his vast improvement defensively since coming to the States.

Looking into some peripheral stats, it is honestly alarming how Sheets appears to be modeling his approach at the plate to Abreu. Statcast has both players ranked in the Top 10 on the team in all categories involving exit velocity, hard-hit balls, and barrels. Sheets and Abreu are No. 5 and 6, respectively, in barrel percentage, which measures how often a hitter achieves a batted ball with the perfect combination of exit velocity and launch angle — and the two players are separated by just half of a percentage point.

Continuing this trend, the two vary by a single mile per hour in average exit velocity of batted balls, two points in wOBA (.353/.355), and just one single point in wRC+ (126/127), with each of these being stats that normalize offensive success to be compared league-wide. While he can’t keep up with Pito’s overall offensive production, considering Gavin has as many at-bats as Abreu has games played in 2021, Sheets’ offensive numbers are remarkable.

Gavin Sheets and Jose Abreu peripheral stat comparison
October is here, and it’s spooky how close Gavin and José are in a few of these categories.
Stats via Statcast, FanGraphs

Gavin’s biggest weapon so far in his young career has been his ridiculous power, useful for far more than just bench-pressing his teammates. For perspective, Sheets’ 11 homers through his first 170 plate appearances puts him two ahead of teammate and fellow Sasquatch, Jiménez, and matches up with budding superstar and known android, Robert, who also hit 11 homers through 170 PAs to start his career.

With his emotional maturity and strong work ethic, Sheets has given himself a great chance of making the upcoming postseason roster, both as a lefty power bat off of the bench and a DH against right-handed pitching. Sheets stands to be one of the biggest success stories of the organization’s talent development, and is lining up as one of the best second round picks in White Sox history.

As much as Sox fans would love to go ahead and pencil in a left-handed Abreu into the lineup for years to come, the book on Sheets is still being written. It’s hard to know exactly where his ceiling is currently, but he has certainly shown plenty of power and patience to play ball at the big-league level. It is hard to not see what he has already accomplished and dream on just where things can go from here.

The uncanny resemblance to Abreu’s offensive profile aside, Gavin has most importantly seemed to inherit José’s ability to never let a moment seem too big for him. While he owes a lot to his two baseball dads for his proficiency on keeping his head down and putting the work in, Sheets should make sure to give himself some credit as well for not giving up, and putting himself in position to help a legit title contender in a World Series chase.

White Sox fans love an underdog, and Gavin Sheets feels like an underdog on a team full of them. The MLB postseason itself has always acted as the largest stage for the unlikeliest of heroes. As we wade through the final few games of the regular season, it’s hard not to get excited at the thought of watching Larry and José’s boy hitting dingers in the ALDS, ALCS, and even a World Series.

And excited, also, by the thought of seeing Sheets do it for many years to come, wearing a White Sox uniform.