Bakersfield, Calif. -- When the Colorado Rockies selected University of Miami outfielder Willie Abreu in the sixth round of the MLB Draft earlier this month, they picked up a solid college junior with decent statistics at a major program who could move relatively quickly through the low minors and wind up on a couple PuRPs lists one day along the way.
But they also got a leader with Giancarlo Stanton-like power, at least according to Chantz Mack, an outfielder in the Seattle Mariners organization who knows Abreu from his own days playing for the Hurricanes. Mack, who was promoted this week to Double-A Jackson but had played all summer with the High-A Bakersfield Blaze, hosted Abreu on the younger prospect's recruiting visit to the university nearly four years ago. From there, the two developed a close friendship.
"I’m really cool with him. That’s my boy, man," Mack told me outside the Blaze clubhouse before a California League game against the Modesto Nuts on Saturday. "He reminds me a lot of Stanton. He’s huge and he's got big time power. He’s excited to start [in pro ball], and I expect a lot, I expect big things out of him. The talent is there, he just has to be consistent. It’s as simple that."
Abreu hasn't been shy about asking questions of Mack regarding the difficulties of minor league baseball. Mack, to his credit, has been eager to share — and considering his .301/.386/.473 slash line over 71 games with Bakersfield this summer, Mack has been a good person to seek out for information.
"One thing I've been telling him is to lead his team, because he is one of the captains," Mack said of Abreu. "I was a captain [at Miami], and I tell him to just lead the team, to lead by example. People only want to hear so much 'rah rah' stuff, but he needs to out-work the whole team, out-run the whole team, out-hit them. And he does."
"And he got them back to [the College World Series]," Mack added, "So that was awesome."
Things didn't work out in Omaha like the Hurricanes had hoped, but for Abreu, the next step towards his dream becomes the first step in his pro career and the beginning of a very, very long journey full of bus rides, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and countless hotel rooms.
"The other day he Face Timed me, and I told him be ready to grind," Mack said, slowly showing the coy smile a man who knows of a thing reveals to one ignorant. "It’s not like how they treated us at Miami. No more plane rides. He’s going to have to be ready to get to work and get after it."
After signing last Tuesday at the conclusion of Miami's season, Abreu is off to Boise to compete for the Rockies' short-season affiliate in the Northwest League, according to Mack. We'll see when and where the newest Rockies prospect eventually makes his pro debut, but it sure sounds like Willie Abreu will be a fun player to follow this summer and beyond.
Side note — he's not a Rockies farmhand, but if you're curious, here's a video of Chantz Mack that I put together for a separate project on another site: