Friday, March 11, 2011

Baseball Digest Birthdays: Bobby Abreu | Baseball Digest

Baseball Digest Birthdays: Bobby Abreu | Baseball Digest

Bobby Abreu (b. March 11, 1974) caught the eye of scouts while playing for Aragua High School in his native Venezuela. As a 16-yr old he signed as an amateur free agent with the Houston Astros in 1990. After back-to-back solid seasons in Triple-A, Abreu missed most of the 1997 minor league season due to a knee injury and didn’t impress the Astros with a 59 game stint in the majors. At age 23, the Astros decided to leave Abreu unprotected in the 1997 MLB expansion draft, and the newly formed Tampa Bay Devil Rays selected him with the sixth pick.

A good move by the then-Devil Rays turned into a bad one when they dealt him later that day to the Philadelphia Phillies for shortstop Kevin Stocker. The thinking was “you should build your team around a strong young shortstop”. The only problem was that Stocker was not that player; he lasted just 2+ seasons in Tampa and retired after the 2000 season at age 30.

Meanwhile. Abreu became the Phillies’ regular right fielder in 1998 and a star was born. In his first full season, he produced 17 home runs, 74 RBI, 19 steals, and a .312 batting average. (Having surpassed the minimum number of at-bats the previous season with Houston, he did not qualify for rookie status.) Abreu also displayed a trait that would become a trademark of his career- patience at the plate- by drawing 74 walks. That season proved to be no fluke when Abreu hit .335 the next season, led the league in triples, stole 27 bases and posted a .995 OPS.

In June, 2002 Jim Salisbury of The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote a piece, “Phils’ Bobby Abreu Silences His Doubters”. Click here to read all about it!

Over a seven year period, Abreu hit .300 and averaged 24 HR, 96 RBI, 31 steals, and 110 walks. He became a two-time All-Star and a Gold Glove winner. It also earned him a five-year deal that could have been worth $78MM in total.

But a couple of things happened that changed his status and reputation in Philadelphia. A collision with an outfield wall made him less aggressive going back after balls hit near the wall. Suddenly, Abreu was tagged as a “soft” player. The other incident occurred when Abreu entered the 2005 All-Star break with 18 home runs and won the event’s home run derby after hitting a then-record 24 home runs in one round. Perhaps it was psychological; perhaps it was a change in his swing. Whatever the case, Abreu hit just six home runs the rest of the season and his power hasn’t been quite the same since.

When Abreu struggled through a mediocre 2006 season, the Phillies decided it was time to move him and the remainder of his contract at the trade deadline. Abreau was sent as part of a package to the New York Yankees for C.J. Henry (minors), Jesus Sanchez (minors), Carlos Monasterios and Matt Smith. The trade turned out to be a steal for the Yankees. Abreu helped the Yankees to the division title, hitting .330 after the trade.

He was steady over the next two seasons (2007-2008), with 20+ steal and 100+ RBI seasons, but the Yankees did not pick up his $16MM option and Abreu became a free agent for the first time in his career. A 35-yr old free agent in a bad economy didn’t make for a good mix, and Abreu had to settle for a one year, $5MM deal with the Los Angeles Angels. It proved to be a Godsend for the Halos. Abreu helped lead the team to their first ALCS since 2005 with 103 RBI, and proved to be a good influence on the team’s young Latin ball players. The Angels rewarded him with a two year, $18MM contract with a vesting option for 2012.

15 years into his career, Abreu has often been overlooked due to his soft spoken nature, but his numbers speak for themselves. 2,252 hits, 276 HR, 1,265 RBI, 1,358 runs scored, 372 steals, and .296 lifetime average. With Bobby Abreu, what you see is what you get.

Also Born Today

Dan Uggla (b. Louisville, KY, 1980): Sometimes the best players in baseball are not the ones selected in the early rounds of baseball’s amateur draft. Sometimes an 11th round pick can turn into a perennial slugger. Such is the case with the Atlanta Braves’ Dan Uggla. The 2nd baseman was an 11th round pick out of the University of Memphis by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001. Four years later, the Florida Marlins selected him in the Rule V draft, and suddenly Uggla’s Major League career was underway.

He finished third in the 2006 NL Rookie of the Year voting after he slugged 27 home runs and drove in 90 runs. He averaged 31 HR and 93 RBI over the next four seasons, garnering two All-Star appearances and a Silver Slugger Award. But over the current off-season he couldn’t reach a deal on a contract extension and was dealt to the Braves on November 16 for lefty reliever Michael Dunn and infielder Omar Infante. A short time later, Uggla and the Braves were able to work out a new five-year extension worth $62MM.

Cesar Geronimo (b. El Saibo, D.R., 1948): When you think of the Big Red Machine of the 1970′s, Cesar Geronimo is not one of the first names that come to mind. But that’s what happens when you’re playing alongside Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, and others on the Cincinnati Reds. But Geronimo was the glue in the outfield, a four-time Gold Glove winner patrolling center field for back-to-back World Series champions in 1975-1976. Geronimo played the first three seasons of his career with the Astros after being selected as a Rule V draftee from the Yankees in 1968. Prior to the 1971 season, he was part of a major deal between Houston and Cincy that sent Morgan and pitcher Jack Billingham to the Reds for a package that included slugger Lee May and steady 2nd baseman Tommy Helms. Geronimo finished up his career in 1983 after playing three seasons with the Kansas City Royals.

Dock Ellis (b. Los Angeles, CA, 1945): The right-hander won 138 games over a 12-year career after being signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1964 amateur draft. Ellis helped the Pirates win the 1971 World Series, their first in 11 seasons, and his 17-win season helped the Yankees to their first pennant in 12 years in 1976. But Ellis had issues and addictions off the field (possibly on the field as well; he claimed to have thrown his 1970 no-hitter while high on LSD), that derailed a good career from being a great one. He played for five organizations, including three in his final season in 1979. Sadly, Ellis passed away in December, 2008 from liver disease.

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