When I warned that Dayan Viciedo would spend most of the year adjusting to being a full-time player before he could be expected to completely replace Carlos Quentin, this isn't exactly what I had in mind.
Viciedo struggled to tap into his power during his call-up in 2011, but nothing that suggested he would struggle to make contact to the tune of 31 strikeouts in his first 106 plate appearances while having his plate discipline erode.
What's even more surprising is how quickly he's wiped that away.
Dayan built his putrid .196/.226/.304 batting line over 31 games; and took a little more than half that time to add 95 points on his batting average and 211 onto his slugging (with eight home runs) to come to where he currently sits: .291/.312/.515.
That's not much getting on base still, but it's enough power to give him a 122 wRC+, which is to say he's 22% better than the average hitter, and got there in a hurry.
Hitting coach Jeff Manto shrugged off the shock of Viciedo's extreme rise.
"I'm certainly not surprised with what he's doing," said Sox hitting coach Jeff Manto, who has watched Viciedo the previous seasons as the Sox's minor league hitting coordinator.
"He's a guy who starts slow because he needs to figure things out. He not a guy you have to coach so much. He reacts to things, so he's starting to react and figure the pitching out."
Viciedo certainly reads as an instinctual, reactive hitter still. His power surge hasn't led to any bump up in walks, he's swinging as often as he did in 2010 (if anything his hot streak has made him swing more), so the difference right now is as simple as calibrating his swing so he's not jamming himself as often, and being shorter on pitches on the inner half.
That's enabling him to hit the pitches he should handle, the pure tests of his bat speed.. From Opening Day through May 13th, Viciedo was getting four-seam fastballs a little over 30% of the time, swinging and missing around 13% of the time, and it only got worse for him on breaking pitches.
Since then, his whiffs on four-seam fastballs are down to 5.6%, coupled with Dayan putting the ball in play a lot more on everything he sees.
The initial trend is that pitchers are throwing him more sliders. It's too small of a period of time to say that will be how Viciedo is attacked from here on out (especially since it's been so ineffective--both at striking him out and keeping the ball in the park), but it speaks to a basic idea of what his success will lead to.
Viciedo will never be a patient hitter--frankly, it doesn't suit him--but the more he punishes fastballs, the less he'll be challenged with them. Breaking pitches are harder to throw for strikes, which should lead to few more walks than Dayan's current one-walk-every-other-week pace.
This is far from the end of the league adjusting the way it approaches Dayan Viciedo, or how he reacts to it. But if his maturation as a hitter is a process, then he's triggered the next step.
He can't slug like this all the time--no one can--but he's shown himself to be dominant when he's in his comfort zone. The season-starting slump was real too, and that his approach can take him out of at-bats for stretches is something to be prepared for.
But he's emerged from that intact and still effective, which is a lot more than many have managed in their careers. Seeing where Dayan goes next should be exciting.