June 15, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Chicago White Sox right fielder Alex Rios (51) in the dugout after his second home run of the game in the eighth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
Going into the season, I was worried about the White Sox outfield. Alejandro De Aza performed well during his short stint with the club at the end of last year, but is this truly a guy that could handle center field on an every day basis? Alex Rios was coming off of a dreadful year and really only had a couple of good months in his entire White Sox career. Was he going to ever be productive again? Dayan Viciedo came up late last year and seemingly lost his ability to drive the ball. Could he really replace Carlos Quentin, who had been the lone bright spot in the outfield over the last few seasons?
The answers to all three questions have been yes.
De Aza: Outside of Paul Konerko and Adam Dunn, the guy who has been the most consistent all year long has been De Aza. He's hitting .301/.375/.418, has been successful in 72% of his base stealing opportunities, has shown that he can drive the ball once in awhile and has played outstanding defense. As of today, he has the 6th highest WAR in the American League on fangraphs, He's in the top 3 in hits, runs and stolen bases in the American League. A strong case could be made that he should be starting for the American League at the All Star game next to Josh Hamilton and Adam Jones. Of course, that won't be happening because outside of the Chicago White Sox fan base there might be 4 people who have ever heard of De Aza. Thats fine with me though, he can be our little secret.
Rios: Checking in at number 15 in the AL outfielder WAR list is the much-maligned right fielder. I don't know if you want to blame center field, Greg Walker, Ozzie Guillen or something else but Rios is a completely different player this year. He is hitting .297/.339/.483 on the season and last night he was about 10 feet away from hitting four home runs in one game. Unlike last season, he has done a pretty solid job defensively. It's nice having a guy with some range playing right field. It's been quite the adventure out there for the last handful of years. This season though, it seems like Rios is there pounding the glove on balls that would have required an acrobatic dive (Jermaine Dye) or someone losing a fight with the ground (Quentin). There haven't been many times this year that you've seen uniform number 51 sprinting towards the wall after a ball, because either Alex or De Aza are there to catch it.
Viciedo: With the Sox cutting back on payroll this season and Viciedo having demolished AAA last year, it was pretty easy to see that the Sox were going to move Quentin to create a spot for the Tank. It hasn't all been sunshine and roses for the powerful Cuban as he got out of the gate at a turtle's pace and is currently in a pretty big slump, but in between he helped carry the Sox. Between May 13th and May 30th, Viciedo went from hitting .196/.226/.304 to .291/.312/.515. Those numbers have fallen off since the calendar turned to June as he's now sitting at .260/.288/.460. He'll never be a guy who walks a whole lot, but the damage he can do when he gets hot can cause a lot of pitchers pain and suffering. According to the eye test, he hasn't been so terrible on defense either. He doesn't have the most range in the world but catches what he gets to and it is always nice to see a runner stop at third base on a single to left instead of receiving the automatic run as has been the case the last bunch of seasons. Quentin on the other hand, just returned from yet another injury. He is bashing the ball for the Padres, but that next injury is one inside pitch or one diving effort away. I'll take Viciedo and smile.
It has been nice having three guys out there that have been productive on a daily basis instead of seeing Juan Pierre, Scott Podsednik, Jerry Owens, Brian Anderson, Rob Mackowiak and Mark Kotsay. Yikes. That is one scary list.