By Mark Gonzales
8:07 AM CDT, October 15, 2012
The late Loyd Christopher, a longtime scout who played briefly for the White Sox, told a disappointed group of high school players more than 30 years ago that statistics "don't mean a thing."
That proved true last spring for left fielder Dayan Viciedo, who batted .206 with only five RBIs in 63 at-bats while looking awkward in making the transition from right field.
While Viciedo is far from a polished outfielder, he made the biggest overall improvement among the Sox's position players during the regular season.
Although his season was marked by hot and cold streaks, the 23-year-old Viciedo finished with 25 home runs, 78 RBIs and a .255 batting average in his first full major league season.
He wasn't pulled out of games for defensive purposes as frequently as he was earlier in the season, and he managed to stay fit after battling weight problems in his first major league spring training in 2009 .
In addition to adjusting from his native Cuba, Viciedo has handled plenty that the Sox have thrown a lot at him, from the position changes from third base to first base, then to right field in 2011 to left field.
Viciedo didn't look very smooth in left in the spring, but that might have been one of the best moves made by manager Robin Ventura, as Alex Rios moved from center field to right field his most comfortable position while Viciedo developed into a capable defender in left.
Viciedo had to dive to make some catches that some left fielders can make without leaving their feet, but Viciedo should continue to get better.
At the plate, Viciedo's blend of hot and cold streaks was prodigious. His average was .196 on May 13 in the final game of a 15-game streak without a home run. He then hit nine home runs during an 18-game stretch that raised his batting average to .282, only to fall into another 15-game homerless streak that dropped his average to .252 .
The home run pattern continued in the second half, although his batting average never went over .261 , nor did it dip below .246 . He went on 12-game homerless streak before hitting three in seven games, and then went another 17 games before hitting his next homer before finishing the season with three home runs in his final three games.
His three-run homer in the top of the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium that gave the Sox a 4-3 win on June 28 was one of the most dramatic homers of the season.
The Sox would like to see better plate discipline from Viciedo without taking away his aggressiveness. He struck out 120 times in 505 at-bats, and he had stretches of 16, 15 and 14 games without drawing a walk.
Viciedo also will have to produce more against right-handers to give Ventura less of a reason to platoon him, as he did late in the season. Viciedo batted .350 with nine home runs in 123 at-bats against left-handers but batted only .225 in 382 at-bats against right-handers.
Maturity isn't an issue with Viciedo, and she showed a willingness to help the Sox improve last winter by trying to recruit fellow Cuban free agents Yoenis Cespedes and Jorge Soler.
Contrary to earlier reports, Viciedo is under team control and likely won't be eligible for salary arbitration until 2015. But with the likely departures of Kevin Youkilis and A.J. Pierzynski, Viciedo will be counted on to provide more production while shoring up some of his weaknesses at the plate.
A move from left field to third base for Viciedo would sound tempting. According to the Arizona Republic, the Diamondbacks are believed to be shopping left fielder Jason Kubel, who could provide production from the left side if Pierzynski departs. Kubel, 30, is a lifetime .278 hitter at U.S. Cellular Field with 14 home runs and 49 RBIs.
Dewayne Wise is a free agent, and several Yankees players and followers lamented his loss after they designated him for assignment.
In mid-September, Alejandro De Aza told the Sox he felt more comfortable in left field. But the bet here is that Viciedo stays in left for 2013 before moving to the infield when the likes of Trayce Thompson, Jared Mitchell and Keenyn Walker are ready to cover the U.S. Cellular Field outfield.
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