About his young outfielder Dayan Viciedo, Robin Ventura had this to say Sunday:
"“He’s looked better as far as what I’m seeing and the work he’s putting in. I’m happy with what he’s doing. He’s starting in the outfield on Opening Day.’’"
If you haven’t had the misfortune of tuning in to see a bunch of irrelevant Spring Training games, then go ahead and move along. Everything’s fine! The top-hitting prospect from last season is an Opening Day starter! Just like normal teams do!
If you haven’t been so lucky, then you know that Ventura just assured everyone that the worst hitter in Spring Training is an Opening Day starter. Viciedo hasn’t just gone 4 for 28 with only a single walk, and a single extra-base hit while striking out 10 times, but he’s also looked pretty bad doing it. Huge, off-balance swings combined with a couple cases of bad hands in the outfield.
It’s disconcerting, and a far cry from last Spring when Viciedo hit over .400 (though also with no power), but it’s also 29 plate appearances. Viciedo has played the equivalent of a week and a half of crappy baseball.
Now, it’s been really crappy baseball, and particularly discouraging since Dayan seemed bewitched during most of his disappointing September call-up. Before handing him an Opening Day job, it’d be exceptionally nice to see Viciedo successfully harness his bat-speed and raw power, and give a demonstration on why he’s earned his role again. It would also probably win the Sox a bunch of Spring Training games, which is another thing that’s bugging everyone, even if it shouldn’t.
But if Viciedo is the man that Kenny Williams & Co. marked for a starting job back in some smoke-filled decision room deep in the bowels of the 35th & Shields complex prior to the Winter Meetings, then that conclusion shouldn’t be getting thrown in the wastebin due to how Viciedo looks dusting off the cobwebs in Spring Training games. He represents the team’s best–if not only–chance to squeeze above-average production from the left-field spot, and they should pursue it until it becomes pretty clear it’s not going to work.
Beyond the fact that it’s a small sample, played against mixed competition with no intensity, one of the reasons we’re cautioned against Spring Training performances is because player are presumed to be “working on stuff”, and Viciedo was at least nice enough to make a reference to that, for our sanity.
"“Initially, I wasn’t feeling as good,” Viciedo said. “I was feeling a little strange at the plate, but as the games have gone on, I’m getting a little more comfortable. Of course I would love to have some better results, but as of right now, I’m working on being a little bit more patient at the plate and working on stuff with my stance.”"
See? He even said “working on stuff” (through an interpreter). Dayan Viciedo is working on stuff!
That’s not to say that some player currently hitting .400 isn’t also working on stuff, but it–along with Ventura’s dismissiveness–indicate that this is not a period where entrenched starters are being graded as much as tracked for their progression to their normal comfort zone. Viciedo has the tools to succeed, so we’re merely waiting for them to re-emerge.
If you need a reminder of what those tools are, I found this mid-July 2011 snippet from Baseball Prospectus’ Kevin Goldstein comforting.
"The 22-year-old Cuban is having a breakout year at Triple-A Charlotte, hitting .325/.374/.535 in 87 games. Possessing some of the best bat speed in the minors, he has the ability to hit for both average and power, and he’s made tremendous strides in his approach. Trust me, his 25 walks over 342 at-bats might not look like much, but it actually represents a massive step forward."
It’s still March, and the new White Sox brain trust can still be assumed to know what the hell they’re talking about. If they aren’t worried about Viciedo, that’s reassuring*.
*I suppose one could offer that we don’t know yet if Robin Ventura is willing to tell bold-face lies to the press. But he probably isn’t.