Dayan Hitting. // Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
This was originally going to be titled “can anyone help Viciedo?” but that’s a more broad, existential question than we’re looking to tackle here. People get paid salaries to answer those sorts of questions. People like new White Sox hitting coach Todd Steverson.
In talking to MLB.com, Viciedo chalked up a lot of his 2013 troubles to oblique and thumb injuries, which rate out fine as explanations for why his numbers might disappoint, but don’t really match up with what was witnessed. Viciedo was swinging like a maniac before and during his oblique pull, and it’s not like he was having perfectly struck balls die on him with his thumb. He was a mess, and injuries stripped away his ability to cover it up with raw power.
Viciedo struggles to get his hands moving forward on time, expands his strike zone out multiple feet to the outside, opening him up to get jammed, and no suggested mechanisms or stances suggested by Jeff Manto stuck with Dayan with any permanence.
But if it wasn’t for that ‘walks become double plays’ quote, or just generally abhorrent results team-wide, Manto’s methods wouldn’t be doused in scrutiny on their own merits. He tried to implement a leg kick, he tried to put Viciedo’s foot in the bucket, and he tried the same with Tyler Flowers, and he got Viciedo’s and Flowers’ 2013 season as his reward. Life is cruel.
Steverson can bring no further guarantees to the Viciedo problem, but if we’re looking for quotes that provide encouragement–and what else can there be–about his ability to approach a Viciedo-type player, well then there are quotes. It’s not hard to find a thoughtful comment from Steverson when trudging through his interviews with Melissa Lockard of Scout.com.
He’s a thoughtful instructor who avoids any one thing being his signature. He stresses adjusting to the strengths of every player. He takes league averages and environment into serious account, he neither fetishizes pulling the ball for power nor spraying things the opposite way. He worries about not overloading his players but never leaves them without something to work with. His interviews with Lockard are worth a read if you’re willing to sign up for a free trial and then cancel, or forget to cancel and then wind up paying for really in-depth A’s coverage for a month. The interviews consist of Lockard reeling off names of prospects and Steverson giving very detailed thoughts about each one.
"“I think you have to keep your routine to keep your approach what it is because the first thing that typically goes for any player is recognition. They say, ‘I’m not recognizing the ball.’ Recognition has a lot to do with approach. If you are able to identify your approach well, then you will spend less time in that sad state. You can pull yourself out of that a lot quicker as soon as you begin to recognize who you are as a hitter and what’s your approach.”"
This comment about B.A. Vollmuth rings pretty true for Viciedo, whose noticeably erring in recognition all the time, but can’t be said to be settled in his approach either. Patience was demanded of him after his initial breakout, but he hasn’t been able to consistently pull for power since. He needs to start being able to diagnose quicker, but not lose aggressiveness and waste all his energy on diagnosis. It will be hard.
"When you reach a level when the quality of the athleticism evens out, then you may see some struggles. Now you need to understand what I do and how I do it. The knowledge of that is something to be desired by everybody. His game is going to come along. He’s – like everyone else – is having to learn how to control the mental aspects of the game."
Viciedo has natural huge power and bat speed, but has had trouble sticking to adjustments that take him out of his comfort zone. Perhaps Steverson would only be the beneficiary of Viciedo beating his head against the wall under Manto’s tutelage, but his quotes suggests he’s sympathetic to the process Viciedo is going through, even if he’s talking about a kid in High-A here.
"When you are that toolsy and athletic, sometimes you can do things that – it’s kind of hard to explain, but one time your hands just fly on a baseball and you just crush it. The next time, the same pitch you almost feel sometimes like Superman. It’s like, I know what I can do and you get away from your approach and you kind of leave yourself for a minute instead of sticking to a nice, simplistic approach of being on time, having a rhythm and seeing strikes instead of trying to do too much at the plate.The kid has a lot of want in him. He wants to do it. But this game is not a race. You have to learn to segment your at-bats into what they really are. You want to have quality at-bats every time. At the same time that you want them to have quality at-bats, they want to get the results each time, like I said."
This comment is actually not about Viciedo.
I don’t think this is any reason to feel particularly confident about Viciedo. He’s struggled to make adjustments to MLB pitching and the odds are against him breaking through to a new level. But Steverson offers optimism that a full fair exploration of his capabilities will take place. Not much more to ask for.
Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan