8:45 PM EDT, March 29, 2012
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Not so long ago, Dayan Viciedo would swing at anything a pitcher threw to home plate. He would hit it too, which is why some people compared him to Vladimir Guerrero.
He's looking like Guerrero, all right. Wilton Guerrero.
That's not exactly who Robin Ventura planned on penciling into the middle of his lineup, one in which success already was dependent largely on comebacks from Adam Dunn and Alex Rios, who combined to hit .197 last season. Ventura needs another question like groundskeeper Roger Bossard needs dandelions. But April's coming fast and "The Tank'' hardly is firing away with heavy artillery, at least not on the main field.
Viciedo inherited his spot in the lineup from the departed Juan Pierre, and it does not appear he can lose it, at least not in spring training. He was hitting a little more than .100 a week ago and Ventura said he would be in left field on opening day.
This is Viciedo's time to sink or swim, as he's 23 and heading for home to complete the four-year, $10-million contract he signed before the 2009 season. His camp had billed him as the Cuban Babe Ruth and he generated tremendous excitement on the back fields of the just-opened Camelback Ranch complex. But 52 of his 58 North American home runs have been hit for Birmingham or Charlotte, not Chicago. Patience comes to an end at some point.
Facing the Dodgers on Thursday, Viciedo went 1-for-3 with an end-of-the-bat single to left field sandwiched around a strikeout and a soft fly to center. He's 4-for-18 since a three-homer day in minor league games March 22. That's fueling hope that he will get his long swing locked in by next Friday, when he will face Colby Lewis at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
"He's getting closer and closer,'' Ventura said after Matt Thornton closed out a 3-1 victory. "I'm happy with him.''
Viciedo wasn't too happy after his first time to the plate. He took three fastballs from Aaron Harang and home plate umpire Ben May called them all strikes for the last out of the second inning.
Viciedo dropped his bat and walked placidly up the first base line. When Alejando de Aza handed him his cap and his glove, he took them and made a left turn, hiding his frustration.
"It has gotten better,'' Ventura said. "His frustration level has subsided a little bit. He got a hit. It wasn't the hardest hit ball but it's always a relief to do something.''
When the White Sox faced the Rays in the 2008 playoffs, a .219 batting average got Nick Swisher benched in favor of Dewayne Wise. If they were starting the playoffs next week, they would be better off with a platoon of Kosuke Fukudome and Brent Lillibridge in left field. But the object next weekend won't be just to win the opening series; the bigger picture is the rest of 2012 and beyond.
Viciedo merits optimism, even if his high-strikeout, low-walk profile allows some to see a low ceiling.
Ryne Sandberg, who managed against him last season in the International League, likes him. Another opposing manager called him the "best pure hitter'' in the league at the end of 2011. But an NL scout damns him with faint praise, saying he's "a poor man's Pablo Sandoval'' who would be a starter only on a second-division team.
The only way to find out how well a guy can play is to play him, and that's what the White Sox are going to do. It's a good call.
Maybe he will mature into a Vlad Guerrero, blasting one or two homers a week and forcing his way into All-Star consideration. Maybe he will remain more like Wilton Guerrero.
That wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Wilton, a switch-hitting infielder, left after eight seasons with a .282 career average, which coincidentally is the same as Viciedo in his first 67 games. That might not seem like much but it has earned him the benefit of the doubt.
Sometimes Arizona can be like Las Vegas.
What happens here can stay here.