Remember when Dayan Viciedo got out of the gate extremely cold in 2009 and a number of fans panicked? Oh how things have changed. It seems every fan of the Southsiders is clamoring for the 22-year-old Cuban to join the big league club to bolster the offense. He’s a perfect example of how prospects need time, especially those as young as Viciedo was when he first came over to the States.
Viciedo turned 20 during spring training before his rookie 2009 season. The Cuban made the jump directly to AA after signing a $10 million contract. The dollar amount put Viciedo’s early performance under a lot of scrutiny, but given the scouting reports it sounded justified. Entering the ’09 campaign, Baseball America ranked him as the second best prospect in the organization behind Gordon Beckham.
When Viciedo struggled mightily out of the gate concerns started popping up. Viciedo was overweight, he couldn’t handle breaking pitches, he can’t play third. In fairness, he did appear a bit overmatched at first. That said, he was one of the youngest players in the league and the jump from the Cuban Serie Nacional to AA ball is fairly massive. Throw in the cultural change and language barrier for a kid and you can understand early struggles.
Dayan hit .221 in April with just two walks and three extra base hits in 77 at-bats. After that he held his own and finished with a respectable .280/.317/.391 line. He didn’t walk much and showed less power than advertised (though he still had 12 HR and actually hit for slightly more power in Birmingham’s big ballpark), but he hit .290/.332/.410 after April so if you add all the context it was a decent debut season.
Regardless, a lot of publications were hard on Viciedo. Baseball America dropped him to No. 7 in the 2010 White Sox top 10, saying he probably would have been better off in Winston-Salem and that his approach at the plate was poor. Overall, BA stayed fairly optimistic about Viciedo’s power, but was quick to say he wouldn’t last at third base. John Sickels said “beware of players who are nothing but glowing scouting reports with no numbers to back them up,” in his 2009 White Sox review. Sickels actually moved him up to No. 6 in his 2010 White Sox prospect rankings, saying he was cutting him some slack for age and level, but still just graded him as a C+.
Despite some negative opinions about Viciedo, the Sox stayed aggressive with him and assigned him to AAA Charlotte in 2010. Again we saw him get off to a slow start (.268/.282/.439 in April), but at least took advantage of Charlotte’s hitter friendly park with four home runs. It wasn’t as bad as the previous April, but the disturbing plate discipline (2 walks to 22 strikeouts in 82 AB) was becoming a major red flag. However, also like the previous year, Viciedo turned the corner as the weather got warmer. He hit .298/.350/.606 in May, easily his best month since coming over to the US.
The Sox called him up in mid-June. He had a nice .288/.325/.533 line in Charlotte at the time of the promotion and put up a similar .308/.321/.519 line with the Sox in 104 AB. The Sox sent him back down amidst a slump in August, but he recovered with a nice finish to the season for Charlotte and with the big league club in September. His plate discipline was still awful, but his contact skills and power were evident. In a matter of a few months Viciedo went from an overpriced and overhyped bust to a talented youngster that had proven himself against big league pitching.
This year Viciedo repeated Charlotte and for the third year in a row had a poor April (.250/.280/.398) and a strong May (.349/.410/.615). Viciedo has been able to draw more walks (29 in 363 at-bats), which I suspect is more due to him getting pitched around than taking a leap forward with his discipline. It’s not a great walk rate, but Viciedo’s hitting zone is bigger than the strike zone so we probably won’t ever see him draw a lot of walks. He also probably won’t need to in order to be successful in the Majors.
So now Sox fans are looking at him to be the savior of a struggling offense and begging for him to be called up. It’s funny how quickly things can change for prospects. Think of Viciedo’s progress as a lesson in patience. With youngsters you have to consider all the factors and give them time to reach their potential because only hindsight is 20/20.
Note: The monthly splits are from minorleaguesplits.com’s database, which isn’t perfect, so the numbers are probably off by a negligible amount.