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What to make of Dayan Viciedo’s return to Chicago

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The Chicago White Sox are a loyal franchise. See Robin Ventura‘s continued employment and the return of Gordon Beckham as recent examples. That’s why it didn’t surprise me when the White Sox signed former outfielder Dayan Viciedo to a minor-league deal to rescue him from the depths of baseball’s scrap heap.

What has surprised me however, is how the Cuban slugger has responded to his new contract.

In 33 games and 107 plate appearances with the Charlotte Knights in Triple-A, Viciedo has mashed to the tune of a .325/.393/.540 line. That’s good for a .933 OPS and that’s not a misprint.

We all know the story of the mightily frustrating Dayan Viciedo. Signed as an amateur free agent in 2008, he was fast-tracked to the majors and by 2010, he got his first taste of the big leagues.

As a 21 year-old, Viciedo hit .308 with 5 home runs, and 7 doubles in just 38 games with Chicago. He built on his cup of coffee run in the bigs with an .856 OPS the following year at Triple-A Charlotte.

That was enough to earn him a late-season call up, in which he held his own and firmly established himself into the starting conversation for the 2012 season. The retooling White Sox ending up going with Viciedo as a starter for the season, and he hit a solid .255/.300/.444 with a very promising 25 home runs.

The following year was a rough year for the outfielder, as he would struggle to replicate the power numbers he had posted just a year prior. While his overall slash line wasn’t awful, it was clear he would need to hit more than 14 home runs in order to offset his .304 on-base percentage and stay as a regular in Chicago.

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Thus, 2014 proved to be a critical year for Viciedo and he ultimately cratered. The power returned, as the slugger did hit 21 home runs. The issue was that his average dipped to .231 and his on-base fell to just .281, which is entering into unplayable territory. He’d also had two months (June and July) in which he was good for an OPS in the .500 range.

Still, this was a player who had 60 home runs over three full seasons to his name, and was still just 25 years-old. He was a right-handed power bat in a time where the game was starved for right-handed power. Yet the White Sox failed to find a trade partner for Viciedo over the offseason, and eventually designated him for assignment when they signed Gordon Beckham. Yes, they essentially swapped one disappointment for another.

Viciedo latched onto the Toronto Blue Jays on a minor league deal, but didn’t make it out of camp with them. The Oakland Athletics took a flyer on him, and he responded with just one home run in 30 games with their Triple-A affiliate at Nashville. This was in the PCL league nonetheless, which usually inflates a hitter’s power numbers.

Not even the Athletics, a team that’s in the business of revitalizing players and extracting every ounce of talent out of them (See Stephen Vogt, Josh Donaldson, and Scott Kazmir), could save Viciedo from disaster. To be honest, I expected Viciedo to stick with them as a platoon bat and hit 30 bombs, because that’s just how baseball works.

Even general manager Rick Hahn envisioned a similar scenario when he dropped this line, per CBSSports.com’s Michael Hurcomb.

"“He’s still young and he still has a world of talent and a great deal of power that we’ve all seen on display over a number of years,” Hahn said. “It’s not going to surprise any of us in the least if he goes on to have a very successful career elsewhere.”"

Viciedo’s power is certainly attractive. He has tower power to all fields, and his slugging percentage sure would look good on a White Sox team that’s experienced a huge power outage this season. I think the White Sox understood this and I believe his being DFA’d was more about a lack of a fit on the club than a lack of belief in his abilities.

In saying that, Viciedo was a travesty in the outfield. The clogging left fielder had a cannon for an arm, but rivaled Alejandro De Aza for some of the worst run routes in baseball. He had no ability to get a good read on the ball and as a result, a .965 fielding percentage in 2014 was the final straw.

Moving forward, it’s clear that his only fits on a ball club are either at designated hitter or first base. It’s worth noting that the White Sox have been playing him at first base thus far in Charlotte. But does the 26 year-old have a fit on the White Sox?

Aug 21, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Chicago White Sox first baseman Adam LaRoche (25) scores a run on a bases-loaded walk during the eighth inning against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Yes and no. First, I’d take Viciedo’s bat any day over Adam LaRoche‘s for 2016, mostly because their careers are on entirely different trajectories. LaRoche is reaching rock bottom status, while Viciedo is much younger and at least has a chance to convert on some of his potential.

With holes at third base, catcher, and potentially even right field to fill for 2016, Viciedo could be a nice band-aid at the DH spot for a very cheap price.

However, there is something to be said in regards to just moving on. Bringing back Viciedo, also brings back memories of the slugger swinging the lumber as though he were competing in a backyard wiffle ball game, in which the object was to disintegrate the plastic ball.

When White Sox fans think back to the losing seasons of 2013 and 2014, an image of Viciedo whiffing on a fastball simply because he’s pulling his head off the ball is paramount to their memory banks.

Still, that .325/.393/.540 line in Charlotte cannot be overlooked. Viciedo has even remedied some of his plate discipline issues. Even though it’s a small sample size, his walk rate is at a career high 9.3% and his strikeout rate has dipped to a career low 15.7%.

If things were simple, I’d say Viciedo has definitely earned a September call-up. However, when adding him to a cluttered field, in which Micah Johnson, Trayce Thompson, Carlos Sanchez, Avisail Garcia, and Tyler Saladino are all vying for much-needed at bats, I just don’t see where the playing time is for him.

Maybe it’s as simple as bringing him back on a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training and pairing him with Adam LaRoche at designated hitter for 2016.

Viciedo had a .274/.318/.487 line versus southpaws over a three-year sample size (2012-2014), and that would look awfully nice if married to the disastrous .159/.194/.193 line LaRoche has posted against left-handed pitching this year. A platoon bat for Adam LaRoche, if not a full replacement, has to be at the top of the wish list for this offseason.

With holes at third base, catcher, and potentially even right field to fill for 2016, Viciedo could be a nice band-aid at the DH spot for a very cheap price.

If anything, Viciedo’s torrid performance at Charlotte is enough to put him back onto the map, and while the White Sox have been quiet in Chicago, a former bust is staging a comeback of his own.

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