12/12/08 5:43 PM EST
Viciedo's four-year pact finalized
White Sox willing to take time to work impact Cuban into mix
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
After passing his physical on Thursday and officially agreeing to a four-year, $10-million deal with the White Sox on Friday, the 19-year-old now plans to start up his conditioning program in Florida with teammate and Cuban countryman Alexei Ramirez. Viciedo was not in Las Vegas for the recently completed Winter Meetings, but he heard manager Ozzie Guillen's comments addressing the need for the power-packed phenom to come into Spring Training in shape.
"I did hear Ozzie's commentary, and I have some work to do before Spring Training," said Viciedo, through translator Lou Hernandez, during a conference call Friday afternoon. "I'm starting a specific program to get me in the shape I want to be for Spring Training, the shape the team needs me to be for Spring Training.
"But I look forward to the hard work and doing what I have to do to get in my best shape possible. I don't have any doubt I can get there."
General manager Ken Williams recently informed the media that Viciedo needed to lose 10 pounds by the time players reported to Glendale in mid-February. Viciedo set the target on Friday at more like 16 pounds, weighing 246 pounds and wanting to get down to 230.
"That's the target weight for me, where I need to get," Viciedo said. "I feel like at 230 pounds, I can be at a very good weight and in shape."
Upon hearing his present weight, one reporter asked Viciedo if he could play football. Viciedo laughed and said it was not something he has the ability to do.
Viciedo certainly can play baseball, which is why the White Sox invested the time and energy they did scouting him and the money they did to bring him into the organization. Viciedo will receive a $4 million signing bonus and earn $1 million in 2009, $1.25 million apiece in 2010 and 2011 and $2.5 million in 2012.
It's a signing that actually is a by-product of the Nick Swisher and Javier Vazquez trades. With close to $17 million saved in salary through those departures, Williams explained how part of that money was re-invested in Viciedo. So, the White Sox actually picked up eight players to increase their young talent pool, as opposed to the seven coming over through the two trades.
Almost every Major League team had a representative at Viciedo's two-day, mid-November workout in the Dominican Republic, coming shortly after he was officially made a free agent. Going into that showcase, Jaime Torres, Viciedo's agent, said the White Sox had a slight edge because of Cuba countrymen Ramirez and Jose Contreras not only playing for the team but thriving in the on-field and off-field atmosphere.
That connection proved to be more than a slight edge in Viciedo's decision-making process.
"They were very influential," said Viciedo of Ramirez and Contreras, who also are represented by Torres. "They spoke with me and told me about playing for the White Sox. They said how they could help me and how I could help them on the team.
"This was the offer on the table. I saw it as the best offer and my best opportunity to play baseball. Overall, I'm happy to be in the big leagues, with two other Cubans and with the White Sox.
During three seasons with Villa Clara in the Cuban League, Viciedo batted .296 with 32 home runs and 123 RBIs in 233 games. He also put together a .500-plus slugging percentage in two of his three seasons playing in Serie Nacional, Cuba's top league. At age 15, Viciedo was named Most Valuable Player of the World Junior Championships in Villahermosa, Mexico. He hit .294 with 10 home runs and 38 RBIs during 57 games in 2007-08, and Viciedo was named to the Cuban League All-Star team during the 2005-06 season after hitting .337 with 14 home runs and 58 RBIs.
Those are quite the lofty credentials, especially for a 19-year-old.
When asked Friday to name his best defensive position, Viciedo said he felt most comfortable at third base. Josh Fields looks to be the current best bet as the White Sox starter at that spot, with veteran Wilson Betemit close behind, but Viciedo would be willing to play anywhere on the field if the big league opportunity arises.
"Center field, third base, wherever," Viciedo said. "If I get the opportunity to be with the team, I don't see a problem playing any position they ask me."
A strong possibility exists that Viciedo could start the 2009 campaign in the Minors, trying to get acclimated to Major League life and the raised talent level. Then again, some thought Ramirez needed this same lower-level indoctrination in 2008 and all he did was finish second in the American League Rookie of the Year balloting while emerging as one of the team's most clutch hitters.
Ramirez's first-year success motivates Viciedo as he approaches his first camp with the White Sox. This motivation needs to play out in better conditioning, though, for Viciedo to have a viable shot.
His first step to Major League success takes root in Florida next week.
"Like I say, he's got to come in shape," said Guillen of Viciedo. "Spring Training is not [the place] to get yourself in shape. I told Jaime, 'He's going to have a legit shot and I want to see him play.' We beat a couple of the teams that were fighting for him and the expectations were pretty high."
"Cuban baseball, I feel, is good baseball," said Viciedo, who has talked about living with Ramirez or Contreras during Spring Training. "Alexei motivates me to work even a little harder. With him, what he did as motivation, I know I can be successful."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.