Monday, March 22, 2010
A growing problem?
By Melissa Isaacson ESPNChicago.com
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When you're paying a minor league prospect $10 million based on potential, you don't want to have to yell at him to run out a ground ball.
In 10 spring training games, Dayan Viciedo hit .182 with a run scored, two RBIs and seven strikeouts.
And when you're the White Sox's brass, you probably don't want to have to put said prospect on a diet or search for a new position for him or worry about his inability to hit the off-speed stuff.
Of course, Dayan Viciedo turned 21 just two weeks ago, is only two years removed from defecting by boat with his family from Cuba to Mexico and is in only his second spring training with the White Sox.
"I talked to him and said, 'It will be up to you how long you will be down there,'" White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said after reassigning Viciedo to Triple-A Charlotte last week. "You don't play the way you should be playing, you'll spend more time in the minor leagues. You play the way we think you can play, then it's easier for us to make a decision on the big league level.'"
The Sox will tell you, and tell you and tell you again, that this was no surprise and no one was expecting Viciedo to be big league-ready immediately. The only one who believed that was his former agent, Jaime Torres, who negotiated the whopping four-year deal for Viciedo. But the Sox agreed to it.
Now Viciedo has moved on to agent Scott Boras, whose first order of business may be helping work out a trade if Sox GM Kenny Williams ultimately decides that Viciedo is more valuable for what he can get than what he can give.
Viciedo said through an interpreter that he is trying to be realistic about his own expectations.
"I don't think I'm ready yet [for the big leagues]," he said. "Every day I try to get better at my craft in order to make that next level and have them decide to [have me] stay up."
In the meantime, both Williams and Guillen had to remind him in no uncertain terms two weeks ago that hustling to first is the very least you have to do. Williams actually shouted that to him from the stands at a "B" game, and Guillen reinforced the message afterward.
But Sox director of player development Buddy Bell admitted that although Viciedo's talent led to certain expectations, they were limited.
"I don't think we had any expectations other than getting him to do different things he needed to do," Bell said. "Coming from a different country, just understanding the culture, understanding what we do here is a lot to take in, in one year.
"The game is played a little bit different than what he's used to. It's played at a little bit of a slower pace in Cuba, and when you get over here, there are certain things they have to do that they're not used to, like running balls out. The perception that you get from Dayan sometimes is that he's not ready or prepared, but he's the greatest kid in the world. All you need to do is tell him what he needs to do, and he's terrific. Those are the kind of things he has to make habit. Quite honestly, he's got to do better, but offensively and defensively, he's making great progress."
Last season, Viciedo hit .280 with 12 home runs and 78 runs batted in for Double-A Birmingham. In 10 spring training games, he is 4-of-22 (.182) with a run scored, two RBIs and seven strikeouts. And the numbers game is not in Viciedo's favor right now.
Although he played well enough at third base last season for Birmingham, the acquisition of Mark Teahen from Kansas City to play third for the Sox, complete with a three-year, $14 million contract extension, has essentially forced the Sox to look to first base as a possible destination for Viciedo with Paul Konerko and backup Mark Kotsay both becoming free agents after this season.
"We're kind of going back and forth with that right now," Bell said. "[Viciedo] is going to play a little more first than he ever has in the past because of the depth we have there right now, and we feel like Dayan is probably a better fit than the other two guys, so this is probably his quickest path."
The other problem with Viciedo playing third is that he is listed at 240 pounds, but he looks considerably heavier and needs to improve his physical condition.
"I think that's fair," Bell said. "But he's a typical 18-, 19-, 20-year-old. Your body kind of gets away from you like when you go to college, but we have him on a fairly strict program, and he's starting to lose some of his baby fat."
Viciedo said it "doesn't matter" whether he plays third or first but agrees his weight is a concern.
"Right now I feel healthy, but I know I have to lose a little more weight to be more comfortable playing," he said.
The Sox love his hands and his power at the plate. "We're still working on his feet," Bell said. "Part of that is changing his body. He's kind of a young hitter right now where he gets out of control, so we have to kind of back him off a little bit, which is really hard. But I'd rather do it that way than have a guy who's passive that we've got to push. We've got to get him more under control, more balanced. But he's got great ability. I think it's just going to take a little bit more time."
Bell compares Viciedo to Cuban-born Angels first baseman Kendry Morales.
"He was supposed to be the next great thing," Bell said of Morales, "and he had to spend a few more years in the minor leagues, and now he's one of the better players in our league. I think it's very similar."
Being the next great thing does have its drawbacks. But Jordan Danks, who played with Viciedo in Birmingham and became close friends with him despite the language barrier, said it did not appear to faze Viciedo.
"I think he handles that weight [of expectation] really well," Danks said. "He was born to play baseball. He said he knew that as soon as he got drafted out of high school. He was real mature at a young age, and I really don't think it's that big of an adjustment for him [to be playing in the U.S.]."
Guillen said he still has high hopes for Viciedo.
"I expect a lot of things from him," he said. "He's a different type of guy. He doesn't look like a Latino. He's so laid-back and sometimes with Viciedo acting that way, people think he's lazy, but no, that's the way he is."
Bell called Viciedo, who is married with a infant, "well-grounded," and he doesn't believe the big contract adds pressure.
"Everyone who goes to the minor leagues wants to make the big league team," Viciedo concurred. "Regardless of what anyone says, that's why everyone is here. I realize I'm 21 years old, but every day I work hard to be on the big league level."
Until then, it's an awfully big contract.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.