- 2009: 114 games at third base, two at first base.
2010: 66 games at first base, 49 games at third, five at DH.
- 2011: 116 games in right, 15 at first, six at DH.
Really, the Sox put him through the wringer in 2010. First they promoted him to Charlotte after he posted an unremarkable .708 OPS at Birmingham. He bounced between the infield corners, and then bounced between Charlotte and Chicago after a surprising promotion in June. He was pushed to two levels his performance didn't suggest he deserved, received irregular playing time and defensive assignments ... that's a lot to handle, and yet his hitting never suffered. He hit .274/.308/.493 with the Knights, and .308/.321/.519 in the majors,
The next year, they moved him to right field in order to make the depth chart more efficient, and he took his offensive game to another level, at least until the thumb injury dragged him down.
Given his history, it seems hard to argue that one more position change -- and a far less radical one compared to previous years -- would finally cause Viciedo's game to unravel. And if the Sox considered moving Viciedo to left right after the season, I doubt anybody would notice. But because it's spring training and there's little else going on, a discussion over a shift becomes a "shakeup," and it's given a gravity that it really doesn't deserve.
It would be one thing if Viciedo and Rios were fighting for one spot. But since they're both going to be playing a corner, it's just a matter of marginal advantages, and shifting Viciedo to left offers the most.
Rios played an outstanding right for six years with the Blue Jays, and even accounting for a decline in physical skills, he should easily outplay the average right fielder. And Viciedo is not even an average right fielder. The best thing you can say about his range is that he didn't embarrass himself. Sure, the Dayan Cannon is fun to watch in right field, but as I've said before, his arm will still be a noticeable net gain in left after watching guys go from first to third on Juan Pierre the last two years.
There's really only one other reason to advise against shifting Viciedo, and that's if he believed right field was the catalyst to the positive developments that took place last year. Had Viciedo resisted all notions of one more change, it would be best to heed it, because his development takes priority.
That doesn't appear to be a factor, based on what we know of the relevant parties' thought processes:
With Alejandro De Aza looking like the best center fielder, it was thought Alex Rios was facing a move to left. But Rios is inexperienced in left, and Ventura said he thinks Viciedo can handle the move without much difficulty.
‘‘He’s a good athlete,’’ Ventura said of Viciedo. ‘‘Alex had his best years in right. There’s comfort in that and knowing he can do it. You put all those things together and see what’s best for us instead of one person.’’
‘‘I can play anywhere,’’ Viciedo said. ‘‘Wherever they want me to play, I’ll play.’’
Assuming Viciedo's public quotes indicate his true feelings, why not take advantage of his pliability? May as well do it before the game starts to give him a full spring slate to get used to it. That's how he learned right field last year, and it was rather painless.
That's not to say Ventura should completely kowtow to Rios' comfort. The presence of Kosuke Fukudome means Rios runs the risk of ending up on the thin end of a platoon situation if he repeats his 2011. That's the definition of a fourth outfielder, and fourth outfielders play left whether they like it or not.
But Ventura isn't going to publicly acknowledge that possibility at this point, because he has to give Rios and Dunn the benefit of the doubt that 2011 won't happen again. Sure, it lacks a certain satisfaction of final justice for the sins of last season, but his hands are tied.
For now, I'd rather focus on what this really seems to mean -- that Alejandro De Aza will be left alone until it becomes clear that he can't handle it. And from what we've seen, he can play.
A Viciedo-De Aza-Rios outfield is awfully iffy to bank on, but this alignment provides a real reason for optimism. For the first time in forever, the Sox would have a left fielder who can throw, a right fielder who can cover ground, and a center fielder who can direct traffic.