Jose Abreu sees importance in season's final month: ‘The 2020 season, it starts in September'


The White Sox are heading toward another sub-.500 finish, another October sitting at home and watching the postseason on TV.

But they're hoping this is the last time they'll have to do that for a while.

The myriad positives that have popped up throughout the 2019 campaign — Lucas Giolito's transformation into an All Star, Yoan Moncada's emergence as the team's best hitter, Tim Anderson's breakout season at the plate, Reynaldo Lopez's second-half surge, the big league presence of Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease, the incredible success of Luis Robert and Nick Madrigal in the minor leagues — all point to 2020 being a season in which the White Sox could be capable of making their transition from rebuilding mode to contending mode.

Whether that will actually be the case depends on what the team is able to accomplish in the offseason, as well as how to-this-point unproven youngsters with sky-high expectations like Jimenez, Cease, Robert, Madrigal and Michael Kopech perform next year.

But as for what this team can do before all that, look to the season's final month.

"The 2020 season, it starts in September," Jose Abreu said Sunday through team interpreter Billy Russo.

On one hand, that's not at all an unexpected rallying cry from Abreu, the team's leader who's said time and time again this season how excited he is for next season, to see the future of this franchise come into its own and begin to start playing meaningful games.

On the other hand, no announcement has come on whether Abreu will even be a part of the 2020 edition of the White Sox. Of course, there's tons of evidence to suggest that he will, most recently his telling the Sun-Times of a supposed guarantee he's received from team chairman Jerry Reinsdorf that he'll never wear another team's uniform. Even before that, though, Abreu's constant praise of the organization and its constant praise of him made a new contract seem like a foregone conclusion.

For many fans and outside observers, 2020 started much longer ago, as far back as the trades that shipped Chris Sale and Adam Eaton out of town and returned prospect-loaded packages that jump-started the rebuild after the 2016 season. But the guys in the White Sox clubhouse have been focused on winning games in the meantime, even if they haven't been successful the majority of the time. Still, along with all the positive signs for the future listed above, the win-loss record will end up showing a dramatic improvement when the 2019 campaign ends, a significant jump from the 95-loss and 100-loss seasons that came in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

But now the players are acknowledging a drive toward 2020, too. For Abreu, that means bringing even more of the team's young talent into the fold.

"Just to keep pushing, keep doing our best, keep trying to improve and do better every day," Abreu said through Russo. "Hoping that the young guys in the organization are going to be up. Whoever they are, just to teach them and guide them, and hopefully with their talent they can help us, too.

"The 2020 season, it starts in September. Because that's when the guys that don't have experience, the new guys, need to start learning how it is to play at this level. I think that we all are on the same page there. That's what we are trying to accomplish, just to do our best and keep pushing."

It's not too much a stretch to speculate that he might have been talking about Robert — as he might have been when he told reporters after the All-Star break that "we need to deal with what we have here until the organization gives us a chance to bring the people up that can help us here" — but whether he'll get his wish to add another young player to his wing of the clubhouse before the end of this season is still unknown. The White Sox made it clear during the last homestand that they've yet to make the final decisions on September call-ups, waiting until Triple-A Charlotte, in the midst of a playoff race, concludes its season.

Will Robert be one of them?

Abreu, intentionally or not, made the case for why Robert should get his first taste of the majors in September, talking about learning how to play at the major league level. It's not outrageous to suggest that even a few weeks of big league experience could help Robert heading into a 2020 season in which he's expected to be an important part of a potential contender.

But the same service-time issues that accompanied Jimenez through the final stages of the 2018 season exist for Robert as 2019 comes to a close. We know how the White Sox handled Jimenez last year, and they could go the same route with Robert, who general manager Rick Hahn has said has already blown away the team's expectations this season. The White Sox would never talk about service time as a factor in their decision with any player. But the argument for gaining an extra year of team control with a player like Robert is a strong one.

Whether Robert comes up or not, though, there will be other young players that arrive once Charlotte's season ends, at least one, most likely, who is expected to be a member of the team's core moving forward. Abreu can still welcome in Zack Collins, who after a mostly unsuccessful but very beneficial stint in the majors earlier this season has been on fire at Triple-A. A September call-up for Collins does figure to be of importance, to test out the offensive adjustments that have led to so much success in the minors against major league pitching moving into next season, during which he could be an important piece of the puzzle at as many as three different positions.

While we've been discussing 2020 for years now, the guys in the clubhouse, especially the ones like Abreu, so focused on the day-to-day workload, now have their sights on next year, too. And with good reason. The ingredients exist for the transition to contention mode to take place.

But it will take more than just ingredients, and Abreu knows it. It's why he wants to start cooking right now.

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