3/26/2013 10:00 A.M. ET
Viciedo, Ramirez hold key to White Sox offense
Pair's performance could dictate Chicago's success in 2013
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Take the following statement for what it's worth, as effusive praise from a knowledgeable hitting coach centered on two of his most dynamic talents.
Yet there is definite meaning behind Jeff Manto's commentary concerning Dayan Viciedo and Alexei Ramirez and the state of the 2013 White Sox.
"Those two guys, if they have adequate years," Manto said, pausing for a reflective smile, "we are going to surprise a lot of people."
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Adequate probably won't be good enough. Both Viciedo and Ramirez finished well above average during the 2012 season, but the White Sox still landed with 85 wins for second place behind the Tigers in the American League Central.
It's certainly unfair to put a team's falling short of expectations on two players, just as a team's success usually can't be predicated on two, unless those two are Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera. But the focus on Viciedo and Ramirez comes from the unknown that is their vast upside, which could possibly propel the White Sox offense from strong to elite.
In Adam Dunn, the White Sox know what they have. Try 40 homers, 100 RBIs, 100 walks and more than 100 strikeouts as basic expectations. Paul Konerko as a healthy performer has been extremely steady, if not spectacular, for long periods of time over the last four years. Alex Rios seemed to have found something highly positive in both his physical and mental offensive approach during 2012.
They are known commodities that certainly could slip a bit, with Rios featuring a one-year-on, one-year-off record over the past four years as an example. They still probably fall within the realm of their already stellar production based on past consistency.
Gordon Beckham stands as a slick-fielding second baseman with power, whose average ranged from .234 to .252 over the past three years. Jeff Keppinger is an adept bat handler who can move the ball around the field ... and the list goes on.
Then, there's Ramirez and Viciedo.
Ramirez, 31, embarks on his sixth season since joining the White Sox. He's coming off a 2012 effort that the shortstop considers subpar, but his subpar still included 73 RBIs and a .265 average. Viciedo, 24, knocked out 25 homers and drove in 78 runs during his first season as an everyday player, but most on the White Sox believe these players have just started to realize their full potential.
"Viciedo, he's probably one of the scariest hitters in the game right now. His bat speed is off the charts," Manto said. "Alexei, he's a guy with so much leverage and ability that sometimes you look past him because of his position. 'Oh, he's just a shortstop,' type of thing."
"They both didn't max out their potential in 2012," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. "We are certainly optimistic they are going to improve what they did offensively last year for different reasons."
What are those reasons?
For Ramirez, who won an American League Silver Slugger award in 2010, a little bit of his plate discipline and his extra-base power dissipated, according to Hahn. The reasons for that drop were unknown, but Ramirez has tried stepping back in the batter's box during Spring Training to see the ball a little longer and give him a better chance to make adjustments.
"Whatever happened last year, it's just experience for me," Ramirez said through translator and White Sox coach Lino Diaz. "I'm not concerned about what happened last year. I'm concerned about this season, this year."
"He'll probably hit .260 to .280, but we've seen more doubles and home runs out of him in previous years and we've seen even more walks out of him," Hahn said. "Our belief is last year is an offensive aberration. He's a smart baseball player. It's not just pure instinct. You are going to see more out of him."
A leg kick was added to Viciedo's swing as a timing mechanism, and it has been a Spring Training work in progress for the left fielder. Viciedo will be able to drop the kick if it doesn't work, but Manto and the White Sox believe it will keep Viciedo's body behind the ball and give him a better chance to make better contact.
Playing the same defensive position for a second straight season and simply having one full big league year of experience also should provide Viciedo a greater on-field comfort level.
Manager Robin Ventura knows Viciedo is at his best when using the whole field, and Viciedo has flashed glimpses of his immense power the opposite way. Ventura also understands that getting a significant uptick in production from Viciedo and Ramirez gives the White Sox a stronger bottom half of the lineup and greater balance.
"I've always had a lot of confidence in my abilities," Viciedo said through Diaz. "All I want to do is continue to prepare myself to be ready and have a good year, good numbers.
"I go to the plate to hit and let the results take care of themselves. I feel like every time I go to hit, I'm going to have a really good chance to do something good. I'm not really thinking about the RBIs and all that stuff. More so just about hitting."
Many pundits believe pitching will dictate the White Sox ultimate destination. Some wonder if Dunn and Rios can pick up where they left off with last year's impressive comeback effort.
All things being equal, Viciedo and Ramirez taking that next step forward might have just as much impact.