Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Spotlight Now Belongs To De Aza And Viciedo

No matter what you thought of the trade that sent Carlos Quentin to the San Diego Padres on Friday, it made one thing abundantly clear: the White Sox are ready to see what Alejandro De Aza and Dayan Viciedo can do over the course of a full season.

Which means that the success of the White Sox offense in 2012 will be largely dependent on two players who have 607 Major League plate appearances between them. That's not a terribly low amount, but it's not exactly the largest of sample sizes either.

Still, for the first time in either of their young careers, both De Aza and Viciedo are going to be counted on every day to produce. Which isn't something that we know either can do, and that's a bit scary.

And judging by the way Kenny Williams was talking following the trade, he knows it.

"Listen, we've seen Carlos when he's healthy and when he's on one of his hot streaks, and it's hard to match up to that kind of talent and ability," Kenny told Scott Merkin. "We are not trying to put that sort of pressure on Viciedo."

You don't want to put that pressure on him, but the truth is, if the White Sox are going to contend in the AL Central next season, Viciedo is going to have to.

There's reason to believe that he can, because as we've seen in his limited time with the White Sox, the ball jumps off his bat when he makes contact. What's worrisome, however, is that after hitting .308 with an OPS of .840 with the Sox in 2010, Dayan didn't have the same kind of success in 2011.

In his first game after getting the call up at Seattle on August 28th, Viciedo went 2-for-3 with a homer, a walk and 3 RBI. Then we all sat there and yelled about Kenny not bringing him up sooner. In his first four games he seemed like just what the White Sox offense needed, hitting .538 with an OPS of 1.471.

But then September and his last 25 games of the season came. In that span Viciedo hit only .213, had an OPS of .514, drove in 2 runs and struck out 22 times with only 7 walks. His defense was passable enough, and given the man he was replacing when he did play in right field, it was essentially a wash.

But it won't be his defense that determines his success. Viciedo will need to show that he can make adjustments after adjustments have been made to him. There are no secrets in this sport. Your flaws are exposed on a daily basis.

Not everybody can make those adjustments. Just look at how things have gone for Gordon Beckham since he first joined the White Sox in 2009.

Then there's De Aza, who was a revelation in 2011.

He was essentially Ozzie Guillen's warped view of Juan Pierre as a baseball player, but an actual, living, breathing baseball player. He got on base. He played great defense and he sparked an offense that had been dormant.

Still, as great as De Aza was in 2011, there's no guarantee the same player shows up in 2012. He had 171 plate appearances in 2011, but had only 59 plate appearances in the three years before that.

Much like Viciedo, the tape is out on De Aza now. And also like Viciedo, De Aza's numbers got worse as the year progressed. Before a strong two week stretch to finish the season, De Aza had been hitting .263 in September. Not terrible, but well under the pace he had been hitting at.

Still, even then, we saw him respond well in that final two week stretch, which gives us some reason to be optimistic about whether or not he can adapt.

But at the same time, De Aza is still an outfielder who has battled injuries in his career that didn't make a splash in the big leagues until he was 27 years old. Which means that we should not only be worried about whether or not he can produce for an entire six months, but whether he can stay healthy while doing it.

Fortunately, Kenny seems to know this as well, and while he's putting a lot of faith in Viciedo and De Aza -- Kenny said on Friday that Alejandro will open the spring as the team's lead-off hitter, and it'll be his job to lose -- he also seems to be hedging his bets a bit.

The name Yoenis Cespedes came up again on Friday, and Williams certainly sounded like a man that was poised to make a run at the Cuban import.

“What I will say is there are some doors that are now open for us that were not open yesterday because of the savings of dollars,” Williams said. “But which direction we are heading with that, [talking about it] I think would be counterproductive with us getting something done should we decide to go down that road.”

As I said in my last post about Cespedes here, if the White Sox were truly serious about making a run at him, then Quentin had to go first. Well, the first domino -- DOMINOES! REBUILDING! DOMINOES! -- in that process has fallen.

Cespedes could be a very valuable insurance policy should Viciedo and De Aza not work out, and it's an avenue I'd really like to see the Sox pursue granted the bidding for him doesn't get downright insane.

Still, he's a bigger question mark than either De Aza or Viciedo, and he's not even here yet.

So for now the pressure is on both of the greenhorns. Let's hope they can handle it.

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