Abreu Bounces Back

Before the start of the season Michel Abreu had not played competitive baseball since 2006, but through hard work he finds himself batting third for the New Orleans Zephyrs. Inside Pitch spoke to him to find out about his comeback.

[Photo by Chad Bower]

It's hard to not play a professional game for well over a year and then be asked to contribute, let alone be the team's third hitter in the lineup. That's just what Michel Abreu has had to do.

After the Mets signed him in January 2006 to a minor-league contract, Abreu spent two games at St. Lucie, where he had three hits in nine at-bats.

He must have made an immediate impression, because as soon as former Binghamton first baseman Brett Harper, who had led the Mets organization with 36 home runs the year before, went down to injury, Abreu received the call.

There was no transitional period for him in Double-A, as he flat out mashed to the tune of a .932 OPS. He had 17 home runs in 397 at-bats, while getting on base .403 percent of the time. He struck out too much – with 87, he would have had more than 100 strikeouts had he played 500 at-bats – but there were a lot of signs he could last in the leagues as a Triple-A guy, and the occasional injury call-up.

He'd have to wait for the opportunity to show that.

He returned to St. Lucie in 2007, but not for poor performance: his work visa had ran out, and he wasn't allowed to play professional baseball. He spent almost the entire year waiting to secure his green card, and he couldn't play in an official pro game.

So he took his 2006 Sterling Award, which he earned after leading the Eastern League in hitting and on-base percentage, and tried to make the best of a difficult situation. He hit in extended spring training and spent as much time as he could in the batting cages.

"Looks to me like he's spent his time wisely," said Ron Swoboda, radio announcer for the New Orleans Zephyrs. "All I've seen is a guy who has made all the plays. It's looked like he's taken some real pride in what he's doing."

The biggest knock on him in 2006 was his defensive ability. Most said he was clunky and that he needed to tinker with his footwork.

"I'm working very hard on defense," Abreu said. "I have good hands, but I need to move my feet more. It's very difficult for me around first base."

A lot of his problems have been because he needs to improve his agility, Abreu said. His new strength coach Kenny Coward said that they've been working on that.

The two do extra work together for three 20 minute sessions a week, doing SAQ (speed, agility, quickness) training and cone drills. To improve his consistency and to make sure that he stays healthy after missing a year of playing day-to-day baseball, he's also working on his upper body work through weight training.

While it's still too early to tell if he's turned the corner defensively, he has been turning heads.

"He's caught everything, made all the plays," Swoboda said, adding that he hasn't made an error through seven games. "Coming up we had heard a lot of bad things about him, that he was clunky. It's clear he's found a comfort zone down there."

What's difficult is trying to acclimate oneself to the minor leagues while playing in a simulated environment.

"There's nobody watching (in extended spring training) and you're seeing the same guys everyday. It's got to be hard wanting that promotion and not being able to get it," Swoboda said.

Early on, as the team's number three hitter, he has looked like he belongs. He's hitting .317 with a .404 on-base percentage, and his three doubles and one home run give hints to the power that the team hopes will soon blossom.

"He's big and he has power, but we've just got to unleash it," Coward said. "We're just trying to bring him to his highest potential."

"I like being aggressive. I like to swing at the pitch that I like," Abreu said.

Abreu can't be viewed as more than insurance for the Mets and doesn't fit into the team's long-term plans. He's 29, but there were reports when he first signed that he was as much as 4 years older – something that reportedly scared away the Boston Red Sox, who retracted their offer. The team denies those reports.

Regardless of age, chances are he wouldn't embarrass himself if Carlos Delgado hit the DL and the Mets decided to go with him. He may not impress with the glove, but he should be serviceable enough in the field to do what the Mets think he does best, Abreu said.

"They know I can hit."


Amazin Clubhouse Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\n[Photo by Chad Bower]
\r\n
\r\nIt's hard to not play a professional game for well over a year and then be asked to contribute, let alone be the team's third hitter in the lineup. That's just what Michel Abreu has had to do.
\r\n
\r\nAfter the Mets signed him in January 2006 to a minor-league contract, Abreu spent two games at St. Lucie, where he had three hits in nine at-bats.
\r\n
\r\nHe must have made an immediate impression, because as soon as former Binghamton first baseman Brett Harper, who had led the Mets organization with 36 home runs the year before, went down to injury, Abreu received the call.
\r\n
\r\nThere was no transitional period for him in Double-A, as he flat out mashed to the tune of a .932 OPS. He had 17 home runs in 397 at-bats, while getting on base .403 percent of the time. He struck out too much – with 87, he would have had more than 100 strikeouts had he played 500 at-bats – but there were a lot of signs he could last in the leagues as a Triple-A guy, and the occasional injury call-up.
\r\n
\r\nHe'd have to wait for the opportunity to show that.
\r\n
\r\nHe returned to St. Lucie in 2007, but not for poor performance: his work visa had ran out, and he wasn't allowed to play professional baseball. He spent almost the entire year waiting to secure his green card, and he couldn't play in an official pro game.
\r\n
\r\nSo he took his 2006 Sterling Award, which he earned after leading the Eastern League in hitting and on-base percentage, and tried to make the best of a difficult situation. He hit in extended spring training and spent as much time as he could in the batting cages.
\r\n
\r\n\"Looks to me like he's spent his time wisely,\" said Ron Swoboda, radio announcer for the New Orleans Zephyrs. \"All I've seen is a guy who has made all the plays. It's looked like he's taken some real pride in what he's doing.\"
\r\n
\r\nThe biggest knock on him in 2006 was his defensive ability. Most said he was clunky and that he needed to tinker with his footwork.
\r\n
\r\n\"I'm working very hard on defense,\" Abreu said. \"I have good hands, but I need to move my feet more. It's very difficult for me around first base.\"
\r\n
\r\nA lot of his problems have been because he needs to improve his agility, Abreu said. His new strength coach Kenny Coward said that they've been working on that.
\r\n
\r\nThe two do extra work together for three 20 minute sessions a week, doing SAQ (speed, agility, quickness) training and cone drills. To improve his consistency and to make sure that he stays healthy after missing a year of playing day-to-day baseball, he's also working on his upper body work through weight training.
\r\n
\r\nWhile it's still too early to tell if he's turned the corner defensively, he has been turning heads.
\r\n
\r\n\"He's caught everything, made all the plays,\" Swoboda said, adding that he hasn't made an error through seven games. \"Coming up we had heard a lot of bad things about him, that he was clunky. It's clear he's found a comfort zone down there.\"
\r\n
\r\nWhat's difficult is trying to acclimate oneself to the minor leagues while playing in a simulated environment.
\r\n
\r\n\"There's nobody watching (in extended spring training) and you're seeing the same guys everyday. It's got to be hard wanting that promotion and not being able to get it,\" Swoboda said.
\r\n
\r\nEarly on, as the team's number three hitter, he has looked like he belongs. He's hitting .317 with a .404 on-base percentage, and his three doubles and one home run give hints to the power that the team hopes will soon blossom.
\r\n
\r\n\"He's big and he has power, but we've just got to unleash it,\" Coward said. \"We're just trying to bring him to his highest potential.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"I like being aggressive. I like to swing at the pitch that I like,\" Abreu said.
\r\n
\r\nAbreu can't be viewed as more than insurance for the Mets and doesn't fit into the team's long-term plans. He's 29, but there were reports when he first signed that he was as much as 4 years older – something that reportedly scared away the Boston Red Sox, who retracted their offer. The team denies those reports.
\r\n
\r\nRegardless of age, chances are he wouldn't embarrass himself if Carlos Delgado hit the DL and the Mets decided to go with him. He may not impress with the glove, but he should be serviceable enough in the field to do what the Mets think he does best, Abreu said.
\r\n
\r\n\"They know I can hit.\"
\r\n
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