Cabrera gives White Sox a legitimate No. 2 hitter

Updated 2/25/2015 9:21 PM
  • Melky Cabrera of the Chicago White Sox.

      Melky Cabrera of the Chicago White Sox. SCOT GREGOR | Staff Photographer

  • With Melky Cabrera batting second in the lineup, the White Sox are expecting a more explosive offense this season.

      With Melky Cabrera batting second in the lineup, the White Sox are expecting a more explosive offense this season. SCOT GREGOR | Staff Photographer

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Looking back on last season, it's astounding Jose Abreu was able to drive in 107 runs with such a glaring lack of table setters.

When healthy, Adam Eaton was solid out of the leaoff spot with a .300 / .362 / .401 hitting line. But the center fielder missed 39 games because of injuries and ranked 28th in the American League with 76 runs scored.

Gordon Beckham was the White Sox' main No. 2 hitter in 2014 -- and Alexei Ramirez, Marcus Semien, Carlos Sanchez, Conor Gillaspie, Alejandro De Aza and Leurry Garcia also shared the spot in front of Abreu.

As a group they were largely ineffective, so finding a proven hitter to hit second was a priority for the Sox this off-season.

"(Abreu) had to do a lot by himself," Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "When you start surrounding him with guys who put the ball into play, the idea is that they can't pitch around him a whole lot."

Coming up with some unexpected money after additions like Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson and Adam LaRoche roused fan interest and increased ticket sales, the White Sox were able to sign free-agent left fielder Melky Cabrera to a three-year, $42 million contract on Dec. 16.

Boom, problem solved in the 2-hole.

With the Blue Jays last season, Cabrera ranked ninth in the American League with a .301 batting average, tied for 10th with 35 doubles and was 18th with a .351 on-base percentage.

A switch hitter, Cabrera also scored 81 runs for Toronto.

"I feel happy because I have the opportunity to hit in front of (Abreu) and in the clubhouse we're seated along with each other and that is good," Cabrera said through an interpreter. "We have a relationship and for a team I think that we have some guys in front of him, me, Eaton, and behind him, that can do the job."

Cabrera, who was suspended for 50 games after testing positive for testosterone in 2012, is a career .286 hitter and he's batted .309 over the last four seasons.

The 30-year-old's track record says he's going to get on base, and that is promising news for Abreu and the rest of the Sox' offense.

"If we can do a little duo at the beginning, that's going to be key for the success of the team," Eaton said.

Hitting second is arguably the toughest spot in the lineup because it requires taking pitches when the leadoff man is going to steal, executing the hit-and-run and giving yourself up to move a runner into scoring position.

It also requires communication, and Eaton and Cabrera started talking on Tuesday, the first full-squad workout of spring training.

"He told me what he likes to do in certain situations," Eaton said. "He seems like a pretty easy-going guy, which is nice. Some guys are like, 'Hey, no. I want you to do this in certain situations.' But he's more.

"Very easy-going guy, which I like, and I think that the relationship is only going to build. We took leaps and bounds just on Day 1. Hopefully, we'll continue to work on that. I think it's going to be very important to the offense."

Realizing they have been lacking a legitimate No. 2 hitter since Tadahito Iguchi a decade ago, the White Sox put in an early call to Cabrera in November.

"When I first saw the trade for Samardzija and the signing of Robertson and the other guys, I told myself I have to be there," Cabrera said. "It was very exciting for me to sign with the team and be with this team. There were many teams that wanted me but it was a decision that I made with my family and this is the place we wanted to be."

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