As Paul Swydan outlined earlier this month, the White Sox are stuck in the middle. The South Siders are in an unenviable kinda-sorta-maybe rebuilding mode, having traded away Sergio Santos and Carlos Quentin but also extending John Danks and being saddled with commitments to the likes of Adam Dunn and Alex Rios that make Disco Demolition Night look like a sage decision by comparison. Unable to totally blow things up, they’re stuck clearing payroll and roster spots for young players where they can.
While the White Sox lack many (any?) blue-chip talents, the man replacing Quentin in right field, Dayan Viciedo, should be on your radar. Viciedo is young, powerful, increasingly selective at the plate and will benefit from taking aim at the U.S. Cellular Field bleachers.
Signed out of Cuba for a $10 million major league contract in 2008, Viciedo had a tepid 2009 debut as a 20-year-old pushed up to the Double-A Southern League. The righty hitter showed decent contact skills and occasionally hinted at the power in his 5-foot-11, 240 pound frame, but more advanced minor league pitchers took advantage of Viciedo’s huge strike zone. His walk rate was way below the league average:
Viciedo became even more hack-happy in the Triple-A International League in 2010, though the concern over his plate discipline was at least partially assuaged by a big power surge:
That power binge carried over to the majors following an August promotion, as Viciedo popped five home runs and slugged .519 in 106 plate appearances. While those clouts led then-manager Ozzie Guillen to dub the beefy slugger “The Tank,” Viciedo’s showed major chinks in his armor for pitchers to exploit. He worked just two walks in the big leagues, swinging at over 40 percent of pitches thrown out of the strike zone, according to our Pitch F/X Plate Discipline stats. Occasionally a freakish hitter can make an eyes-to-ankles strike zone work (think vintage Vlad), but for most it just means lots of pitcher’s counts and eventual outs.
Happily, Viciedo tightened up his zone considerably in 2011. He batted .296/.364/.491 in a return engagement to Charlotte, still showing plenty of pop (.195 Isolated power) while nearly tripling his walk rate to 8.9 percent. He didn’t suddenly turn into Kevin Youkilis or anything, but Viciedo was much more patient than in 2010. StatCorner shows he saw an average of 3.84 pitches per plate appearances in 2011, up from 3.4 the previous year, and he cut his overall swing percentage from 58 to 47. Viciedo didn’t fare well during a late-season call-up due to a bushel of power-killing ground balls, but he did trim his outside swing rate to a little under 32 percent.
Now that The Tank is taking his walks and has a spot in the everyday lineup, he’s an intriguing late-round option on draft day. Viciedo is in a superb park to show off his right-handed pull power, as The Cell increases home runs hit for righties by 38 percent compared to a neutral stadium. That’s by far the highest home run park factor for right-handed hitters in the game. Bill James, ZiPS and Oliver all project Viciedo (23 in March) to hit in the .270s in 2012, with an OK OBP and pretty good pop:
Bill James: .274/.324/.455, 21 HR
ZiPS: .274/.328/.431, 21 HR
Oliver: .275/.319/.440, 19 HR
Viciedo looked like a dubious prospect prior to 2011, haphazardly swinging for the seats and making outs by the bunches in the process. But now that he has learned to work the count a little, his upside is much higher. Should his plate discipline gains carry over to 2012, I would take the over on those above projections. Viciedo has power, opportunity, a plum park, and now, the ability to wait for a pitch that he can drive.