Viciedo easing his way into first base

Viciedo easing his way into first base

TEMPE, Ariz. -- At 5-foot-11, 240 pounds, Dayan Viciedo has the build of an NFL fullback but the soft hands of a middle infielder.

Anyone who has watched him make contact with a baseball knows Viciedo possesses the power of a classic home run hitter.

Now, the main questions to be answered concerning Viciedo are where will he play defensively and when will he arrive in Chicago? Viciedo has his ideas on the first topic, but they might differ from the White Sox.

"My position is third base," Viciedo said through a translator. "But I'll play wherever they tell me to play."

Judging by his first two Spring Training starts, it looks as if Viciedo is jumping to first base. And if that move is not yet completely official, Viciedo certainly appears to be gradually making his move across the diamond.

Viciedo started Tuesday's "B" game against the Dodgers at first base, and with Paul Konerko getting the day off for Thursday's Cactus League opener at Tempe Diablo Stadium, there was Viciedo adeptly picking low throws at first base against the Angels. The change in position seems to make sense for Viciedo, with Mark Teahen locked up for the next three years as the White Sox third baseman, and Konerko playing in the final year of a five-year, $60 million deal.

As Viciedo indicated, the position isn't as important to him as simply having the chance to play regularly. He came to the White Sox carrying a great deal of hype after defecting from Cuba. There was even talk during the negotiating process how Viciedo could contribute at the Major League level in his first big league season.

Instead, the 2009 season was spent by Viciedo entirely with Double-A Birmingham. His effort received high marks, as he hit .280 with 12 home runs, 20 doubles and 78 RBIs for one of the best overall Minor League teams. His 504 at-bats were 181 more than the previous high point of his Cuban career, and he had 327 more at-bats than the last time he suited up for Villa Clara of Cuba in 2007.

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Needless to say, it was a yearlong learning experience for Viciedo, who feels wiser and soon to be older when he turns 21 on Wednesday.

"It's the first time I played in a league with so many games, and I also adjusted to the system of baseball here," Viciedo said. "This year, I feel better. I feel prepared. I feel a lot more confident.

"They taught me a lot last year. My footwork at third base ... Really, I learned about everything. I learned about every aspect of the game."

The White Sox signing of Viciedo cost them $10 million over four years. It's not exactly the sort of deal you expect for a Minor Leaguer, which was Viciedo's 2009 job description, even a first-round Draft pick.

Add those contractual expectations to Viciedo's year, not to mention the Spanish-English language barrier, and it's easy to see how the pressure could have quickly built up for the relatively untested rookie.

"Yes, without a doubt. Yes. You feel a lot of pressure," Viciedo said with a smile. "I'm a 20-year-old, signing that contract, making a lot of money. Thank God I had my family here to support me."

"I've always said it is easier being a seventh-rounder than a first-rounder," said Jordan Danks, a Viciedo teammate at Birmingham, referring to the extra pressure immediately heaped upon Viciedo's broad shoulders. "They care about you as a seventh-rounder, but you're not their main focus. They've invested all this money into a first-rounder, and expect you to perform."

All accounts presented by general manager Ken Williams and Minor League director Buddy Bell characterized Viciedo as not only a great teammate with the Barons but as a young man with an abundance of personality and humor. Danks and Daniel Hudson, who made a nine-start stopover with Birmingham, seconded this notion.

"He's a cool guy, and I enjoyed playing with him," Danks said. "I don't speak any Spanish, and he hardly speaks any English. But we had hand signals to communicate with each other."

"Just being 20 years old and having that kind of money and coming over here for a first time, not knowing a lot of people, it's got to be tough," Hudson said. "But he adjusted well. The language barrier is tough with him, but he tries to make the connection with you. Just a great teammate, and an awesome person to have in the locker room."

More than the on-field position has changed for Viciedo. He became a father for the first time, with Dayan Jr. born in the offseason. Viciedo speaks of his son with the same enthusiasm and pride as a player who has hit a walk-off home run in six or seven consecutive games.

That sort of excitement is what Viciedo hopes to provide baseball-wise in 2010. It's a near-certainty he will start the season with Triple-A Charlotte, but in Ozzie Guillen's revolving designated-hitter setup, Viciedo eventually could be a player.

Guillen wants Viciedo to prove his worth, showing adjustments by hitting the ball the opposite way at the plate, as well as dealing with a potential new position. Through two games this spring, Viciedo looks like a big league first baseman.

"Open people's eyes," Guillen said of what he wants from Viciedo. "We moved him to first base to see how he plays there, [if he gets] good at-bats. It's time for him to start to move on, second big league camp. I think when we send him down, go out there and put some numbers [up] because he's a guy we're going to see here pretty soon."

"Anything is possible," Viciedo said. "I don't think I have to rush anything. I'm 21 years old and I have a lot of time in front of me."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.