It didn't take long for Yasiel Puig and Yoenis Cespedes to go from being Cuban defectors shrouded in mystery to household names. Based on what he did last night, it looks like White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu, the latest Cuban-born star to arrive in the majors, is on a similar path to stardom.
Abreu belted two home runs against the Rockies last night, the first of his major-league career. On the first, he dropped his hands on a curveball spinning on the inside half of the plate, mustering just enough power to send the pitch sailing down the left-field line and over the fence. It was a fine home run, the kind that professional power hitters make their living hitting.
But that second homer, oh man, that second homer. Down 0-2, Abreu obliterated a fastball on the outer half of the plate, turning it into a missile that sailed over the fence in right-center and one-hopped the wall in the back of the bullpen. Yeah, the air is thin in Colorado, but even at Coors Field, that's not a place that right-handed hitters are supposed to be able to put the ball. That was the kind of homer, one following a short, fluid swing that produces a startling amount of opposite-field power, that we are used to seeing Miguel Cabrera hit.
That comparison isn't made without merit. His performance last night aside, there's a non-zero chance that Jose Abreu is a Cabrera-class hitter. Back in 2012, Grantland's Jonah Keri wrote about the ridiculous numbers Abreu was putting up in Cuba—he hit .453/.597/.986 with 33 homers in 212 at-bats in 2011—first raising the comparison to the best hitter in baseball:
So the wildly optimistic view is that it's possible—not likely, but possible—that Abreu might be as good at—or better at—than Miguel Cabrera. And the more realistic and pervasive view is that he could hit like Ryan Howard, a star first baseman entering year one of a five-year, $125 million contract who has launched 262 homers over the past six seasons.
Which is, in a word, stupefying.
Keri wasn't just blowing smoke, either. He based that comparison on a model developed by Baseball Prospectus co-founder Clay Davenport called EqA, which seeks to project how players in foreign countries like Japan and Cuba would perform in America. When Abreu's 2011 numbers were plugged into Davenport's model, it basically broke. An EqA of .400 is astronomically good, and Abreu's EqA from the 2011 season was .437. The next year, it was .396.
So yes, Jose Abreu has a chance to be a very, very good major-league player. He grabbed our attention last night, and there's a chance he's never going to let go of it.