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The Ghost Of Dayan Viciedo

The kid had such a warm, endearing smile, to say nothing of his speed, power and confidence. When he was just 16, he hit .337 playing professionally in the Cuban National Serie, the same league that spawned Jose Abreu.

In the spring of 2008, he and his intrepid family clandestinely left Cuba in a boat bound for Mexico. That winter the White Sox were ecstatic to sign Dayan Viciedo to a four-year $10 million contract.

Spending the 2009 season at Double-A Birmingham, Viciedo did nothing to tarnish the promising picture the franchise painted for the aspiring youngster. He hit a respectable .280 with a dozen home runs and 78 RBI for the Barons. Playing third base, the 20-year-old prospect made 30 errors, but he was just learning, and, sure enough, when he was called up to the Sox on June 20 of the following season, Viciedo had committed only three errors in 26 games at the hot corner.

Viciedo joined that 2010 Sox team which wound up missing a post-season wild card berth by a single game. Omar Vizquel, 43 at the time, was filling in at third base after guys like Mark Teahen, Brent Morel and Jayson Nix failed to impress. The stage was set for Viciedo, who had just reached the legal drinking age, to become the White Sox third baseman right then and there and far into the future.

Funny how things sometimes don't work out as planned.

Viciedo hit .308 that first season on the South Side, and in 2012 he belted 25 homers and drove in 78. He became known as The Tank, a handle created by announcer Hawk Harrelson as the kid's stature ascended.

However, he never established any real consistency although he hit with power - 21 homers in his final season of 2014 despite a .231 average - and the Sox were unable to hide him sufficiently in the field where his weaknesses were on stark display. His knowledge of the strike zone was on a par with that fellow in Washington's familiarity with constitutional law.

He also frustrated the front office which felt that his ample physique - they pushed him to lose 20 pounds - was holding him back from real stardom.

When the Sox released Viciedo in January of 2015, general manager Rick Hahn said, "He's still young [25] and he still has a world of talent and a great deal of power that we've all seen on display over a number of years. It's not going to surprise any of us in the least if he goes on to have a very successful career elsewhere."

Where is Viciedo today? Playing in Japan where he's hitting .246 with three homers. He's 28. You be the judge of how successful he's been.

And why mention him now? Because the Sox made headlines over the weekend by agreeing to terms with another in a long line of Cubans, 19-year-old Luis Robert, who, because the rules are changing, is the last of the free agent athletes from the island that big league clubs can sign for huge bonuses. Apparently Robert's deal is in the neighborhood of $27 million.

Robert, projected as a center fielder, also is a product of the National Serie league. Last season he hit .393 with 12 home runs and 11 stolen bases. He's received rave notices from scouts who have watched him recently in workouts in the Dominican Republic.

The first notable Cuban to play on the South Side was Minnie Minoso in 1951, if not the greatest player in franchise history, certainly the most exciting. More recently Jose Contreras, Orlando (El Duque) Hernandez, and Alexei Ramirez played for the Sox anywhere from one to eight seasons. Today Abreu is in his fourth season as the team's first baseman, while minor league second baseman Yoan Moncada - baseball's No. 2 prospect - made a notable splash when Hahn pried him loose from the Red Sox in the Chris Sale deal. One of the selling points made to Robert was the Sox' history of Cuban players.

The Robert signing and the eventual arrival of Moncada at 35th and Shields gives us Sox fans lots to look forward to. Or at least we hope so. However, for at least this Sox fan, the memory of Viciedo is a sobering reminder that despite all the hype, publicity and attention, nothing can be taken for granted.

The case of Moncada is especially puzzling and perhaps foolish. I saw him in spring training, and his physicality and the way he carries himself are absolutely impressive. Contributing to the build-up are the Charlotte Knights' games that Comcast has been televising. The network's Mark Schanowski recently announced between innings of a Sox game that Moncada had just stolen second base that evening despite the fact that the opposing team pitched out.

Oh, brother! Let the kid play and quit this hyperbole that Moncada is the next Superman or, at the very least, Robinson Cano. Sure, the kid is hitting .331 at Triple-A, and he's belted half-a-dozen homers and stolen 10 bases. But even Jacob May, who went 2-for-36 in his Sox debut earlier this season, is hitting .324 at Charlotte. Kevan Smith, who presently is sharing the catching duties with Omar Narvaez for the big club since Geovany Soto got hurt, was hitting .377 for the Knights and is just 5-for-30 with the Sox.

Charlotte is a far cry from the American League. Moncada got a call-up last September in Boston when Dustin Pedroia was disabled, and he had four hits in 19 at-bats with 12 strikeouts. On the plus side, he had a splendid spring training, hitting .317 in 17 games with three homers and 13 RBI. But, again, it was spring training.

Most of the talk focuses not on "if" the Sox will call up Moncada, but "when." However, this also creates a bit of a dilemma for a number of reasons.

For one, after winning three in a row last weekend in Seattle, outscoring the woeful Mariners 24-2 on Saturday and Sunday, the rebuilding Sox are a respectable 20-22. Moncada's presence probably would make little difference in wins and losses.

In addition, at the present time, the Sox have a fine second baseman in Yolmer Sanchez, who is hitting .327, or about the same as Moncada. But let's be clear: He's doing it in the American League, not the International League. Sanchez arguably is better defensively than the Cuban kid as well.

With Sanchez, Tyler Saladino, Tim Anderson, Todd Frazier and Matt Davidson, the Sox have enough personnel for second, short, and third base. Bring in Moncada, and one of those guys has to go.

Frazier would be the guy most likely to move since his contract is up at the end of the season, and, as a 31-year-old veteran, he doesn't fit into the team's long-range scheme. He would be lovely trade deadline bait for Hahn if not for the fact that his slash is .200/.285/.643. Frazier fought a couple of bouts with the flu earlier this season, and he just now seems to be recovered. If he could start hitting some long balls and driving in runs, Hahn might be able to move him at the end of July and bring in Moncada.

In the meantime, let the youngster excel at Charlotte. He celebrated his 21st birthday last month. He has a long road ahead of him, and he has good company at Charlotte when it comes to prospects. Let them play, learn, and hopefully win together. If the Sox want to televise Knights games, fine. So be it. But don't forget to publicize that this is minor league baseball with scant resemblance to the major leagues.

We don't need to go back so long ago to recall the disappointment of a bright, young prospect like Viciedo. Moncada, Robert and others are different people of different skills and make-up. But they need time, and this is the perfect opportunity to give it to them.


Former Bill Veeck bar buddy Roger Wallenstein is our White Sox correspondent. He welcomes your comments.


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