Some Manto projects don't involve prayer

In a profile of Jeff Manto, Mark Gonzales outlined the numerous tasks that lie ahead of the new White Sox hitting coach:

  • Fix Adam Dunn
  • Fix Alex Rios
  • Fix Gordon Beckham
  • Make sure Brent Morel doesn't take a step back.
  • Don't disrupt Paul Konerko's delicate balance.

These are all very real issues, but there's one task that Gonzales didn't mention that should take precedent. He'll have to keep close watch on Dayan Viciedo, and the adjustments he has to make when pitchers find new ways to exploit his aggressiveness. In fact, I might rate Viciedo's progress as the most crucial development of 2012. Viciedo offers the prospect of above-average production for the league minimum his salary, and that's something the Sox have sorely lacked. If he can't deliver, it clouds the future of any next White Sox core.

So there's Viciedo. Let's assign Morel, too, since Manto oversaw Morel's brisk, steady climb through the minors. Otherwise, Manto arrives on the scene rather foreign to the current state of affairs.

He isn't daunted by the to-do list, at least outwardly:

"It's a great challenge," Manto said. "Sometimes you walk into a team where everything's fine, everybody's in good spirits and having good careers. But here, there is something to do."

There's a lot to do, and Manto should get ample time to show whether he's up for the task. He basically gets the benefit of the doubt thanks to the scientific method. Ozzie Guillen had a steadfast belief in his coaching staff and veteran players -- or a sheer reluctance to make anything that qualified as a difficult decision. Either way, what resulted was a formula with all constants and no variables.

After several years of samey struggles, Manto represents a shift by his presence alone. However, he's inheriting problems that might only be solved by St. Jude (and what a hitting coach he would be!). Dunn might be done. Rios has spent 14 months with the White Sox, and he's only hit well in two of them (with a couple OK months thrown in, to be fair). Beckham was such a mess last year that he couldn't eat enough to maintain his weight.

If these players perform noticeably better in 2012, then Manto is an easy hero. If a different voice can't reverse these slides, then the first recourse is to point fingers at the talent. And then you cross days off the calendar until the financial obligations end. That vindicates Greg Walker somewhat, but he'll have a chance to restore his reputation in Atlanta regardless of what happens in Chicago.

But if I'm trying to judge Manto in his first year, I'm looking at four players -- Viciedo, Morel, Konerko and Alexei Ramirez. With the first two, the goal is to solidify the visible, positive changes they made in their approaches last season. With the other two, it's getting out of their respective business. Ramirez will be an interesting case in his own right, because his walk totals fluctuate more than European markets (topical!), but his overall production finds its way to the same neighborhood at the end of the season. Who knows? Maybe with Manto, he'll three-true-outcomes his way to a .730 OPS.

Alejandro De Aza and A.J. Pierzynski are the other two regulars, but I'm not too concerned. For whatever reason, their plate approaches seem impervious to anything but the most minor of tinkering. Plus, if either player experiences a massive drop-off, the cause will likely be out of anybody's control -- De Aza has a spotty health history, and Pierzynski is a 35-year-old catcher. In fact, Tyler Flowers' aspirations of adequacy in a backup role probably deserve more of Manto's focus.

It may not sound particularly ambitious on its face, because the Sox's hopes for real contention hinge on decent output from some combination of Dunn, Rios and Beckham. I'm still holding out hope for Beckham, but there's just too much wishcasting involved with those players to really pin any failure to resuscitate on Manto. However, if the Sox can get through 2012 with all four corner positions in full working order, that will be an achievement in its own right. If Beckham finds his Michael Young form, the Sox are closer to recovering than previously thought. And if Dunn and Rios happen to join them in the "assets" column, then get the canonization papers ready.

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