Sox spring surprises have international flavor

Sox spring surprises have international flavor
March 11, 2011, 12:16 am
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Thursday, March 10, 2011
Posted 6:17 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. Coming into camp, everyone knew there would be few open roster spots for the Chicago White Sox this Cactus League season. The steady climb toward a healthy opener by Jake Peavy alone evaporates one open spot.

So by any count, there are two spots open. One comes in the bullpen, as pitching coach Don Cooper and manager Ozzie Guillen lobby every year against more pragmatic GM Ken Williams for a 12th pitcher on the roster even breaking camp, when off-days create a bit more rest for everyone. The second resides on the bench, where Omar Vizquel, Mark Teahen, and Ramon Castro provide a bit of flexibility, allowing the team to potentially select the best player for 25th man, rather than the best roster fit.

Guillen hasnt been shy in admitting he hasnt seen many standouts among his bubble players, but two names keep coming to his mind when asked to assess players in camp, even this early on: Dayan Viciedo and Shane Lindsay.

The Tank is rolling

Viciedo fractures thumb

When the reports came earlier this year that the acquisition of Adam Dunn would push Cuban bonus baby Viciedo to the outfield, Guillen cracked a joke about giving the heavy youngster a golf cart to get out to right field every inning.

Unfortunately, Viciedo wasnt able to get out of the way of a Dave Bush pitch in the eighth inning against the Texas Rangers on Thursday and he will miss 3-4 weeks with a fractured right thumb.

While hes effectively out of the running for a roster spot when the team breaks camp, it doesnt diminish what the Tank did to put himself in position for one.

In Viciedos first moments on the field, heading out to the field on March 1 vs. the Milwaukee Brewers, he held up the game by lollygagging his way out to right. But on the first play of the game, Rickie Weeks hit a screaming meemie over Viciedos head. Viciedo merely chased it down with a nice, over-the-shoulder catch.

Thats natural, Viciedo said. Natural instinct.

Indeed, if there was a single player who has opened Guillens eyes this spring, it was the 22-year-old. And finally arriving at a set position might be the biggest factor as to why.

Much is being said of the game of musical chairs the Tank has played since signing with Chicago in 2008.

Guillen admits, When we got this guy, he was an outfielder in Cuba, thats what he told me. For some reason, we put him at third base. I said, Well, thats what we got a third baseman. Hopefully this year we finally have got him in one position. Hes played only a couple years in baseball, and we moved him from third base to first base, first base to third base -- thats not easy. Hes handled it very well.

Viciedo wasnt frustrated at all about being shuttled from position to position.

Im relaxed about it. Its a positive for me; it shows me how important I am to the team, Viciedo said. Most of all, I want to help us win.

The right fielder admits its been an adjustment moving to the outfield -- but not as much as youd think.

I feel comfortable, he said. Now that Ive got more practice out there, Im able to feel comfortable out there so I feel good. The hardest thing is keeping up with the pitchers and what they are going to pitch in order to know and make adjustments during the game. You pretty much have to keep moving, just to play out scenarios of where the ball might land.

When you play third base, every pitch you have to be on-point because something might be coming toward you. You have to be attentive. When you are in the outfield, you might get a fly ball every once in a while. You might have a dribble coming out there. You are not as intense in your concentration as much as you would be at third.

Guillen has said that the positive reports coming from the teams outfield coaches, including Harold Baines, Daryl Boston and Devon White have opened his eyes to the possibility of the Tank roaming in right at U.S. Cellular Field.

Hes playing RF very well, better than what we thought, Guillen said. I got good feedback on him playing in the outfield. I was pretty excited about what I heard. Hes going to have a lot of big league time.

Viciedo is quick to praise the White Sox coaching staff for his fast success in the outfield, including two assists (a punchout at third base vs. the Brewers, and a bullet thrown home to nail a Colorado Rocky at the plate this past Tuesday).

Theyve been helping me out quite a bit, Viciedo said. I work out with them a lot. Ive been learning. All of this practicing is what is really helping me out.

Viciedo has also benefited from the tutelage of one of Cubas greatest outfielders, Victor Mesa (a superstar on the island and in international competition from 1978-95), who was one of the young players managers and mentors.

I really looked up to him, Viciedo said. He was a great center fielder, so a lot of what I learned playing the outfield actually came from him. I picked up a lot of stuff from him and looked up to him.
Dayan Viciedo played outfield in Cuba, but has been shifted from third base to first base and back again with the White Sox. Manager Ozzie Guillen hopes that letting Viciedo settle in to right field will be beneficial for his development. (AP)
Guillen has also been quick to acknowledge that this is the first of Viciedos three spring trainings with the White Sox where the slugger has reported in top condition.

One thing has helped him: Hes showed up to camp in shape, Guillen said. Thats helped him develop his game because he doesnt have to worry about getting in shape and get on a scale every other day.

While I was in Miami this offseason, I worked on a diet, Viciedo said. I had a strong diet regimen. I trained in the gym really hard just to be prepared for this. I trained a lot harder. I dont want to be known as the chubby boy -- I want to be known as the strong guy.

While this might be the first story ever written about Viciedo that doesnt lead with and primarily focus on his mammoth power and vicious line drives, its a sign of how far hes risen in the organization that the conversation no longer starts and ends with him as a scale-tipping future DH.

So its not only a spring thats been marked with solid defense in right and a 1.024 OPS through his first six games thats won over team brass; its his entire approach to the game. Guillen has seen enough from the youngster to feel comfortable in letting him find his own way.

We should just let him go; do whatever you want to do, he said. We tried to fix the kid and it doesnt work. Let him swing the bat and do what hes supposed to do. Were better off that way.

We all know he can hit, says teammate and fellow Cuban Alexei Ramirez, who has served as a bit of a big brother to Viciedo. But look what hes doing now, challenging for a spot on the team and helping us in many ways. Hes a very different player than before.

Relief from Down Under

Much lesser known than Viciedo, who was in the majors at age 21, is Lindsay -- the darkhorse candidate for the bullpens final spot. Lindsay hails from Australia but has pitched in the minors for six seasons.

It took six days for Guillen even to mention his name, but if theres one hurler from the nameless masses shooting up the depth chart, its Lindsay. Counting last weeks B-game, the Australian reliever has finished up three games with three hitless, scoreless innings and five Ks.

I try not to worry about what the coaches are thinking, you know, he said. I just try to throw strikes and the rest will take care of itself. Im not worried too much. Ill do my head in if I keep thinking about that impressing people.

Lindsay isnt just rocking his surfer look and speaking in an incongruous Aussie accent as part of some sweet exchange program; hes embarked on a serious pitch to make his major-league debut with the White Sox in April. While some pitchers arrive at spring training to begin their hard work toward the season, Lindsay hasnt let up after amassing a 5.80 ERA in 33 Double- and Triple-A games for the Colorado Rockies and Cleveland Indians in 2010.

Cooper and I worked on a slider, and also allowing me to get the ball down and repeating my delivery, basically, Lindsay said. I was working big on rhythm and tempo in the offseason, and the White Sox added to that. Weve worked on hand placement and hand position.

Guillen has been impressed with Lindsay and is unafraid to throw out his name as a possible 12th man in the pen. With four power arms in Matt Thornton, Chris Sale, Sergio Santos and Jesse Crain at the back end of the pen, lefty specialist Will Ohman and multi-inning hurler Tony Pena in the mix, the need the club would have for another long reliever is mitigated.

We have so many guys right now that its very hard to point at somebody, Guillen said after Wednesdays loss to the San Francisco Giants. But Lindsay threw very hard once again.

Credit Lindsay for his focus: Hes had great success in the lower minors (3.32 ERA over 271 13 innings in all pro ball but Triple-A) but knows the biggest challenge of his career lays out in front of him over the next three weeks.

You know, there are a lot of other guys in this clubhouse who all want the job, Lindsay said. Im not trying to think about it at all. The coaches will worry about that. Ill give myself a headache thinking about who they should take. Thats not my job.

As for Lindsays actual job -- getting hitters out -- hes been all but perfect. If he can keep that up for another 10 outings or so, hes going to have some long flights to order up for family when he makes his major-league debut in Cleveland.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.