St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Chicago White Sox left fielder Dayan Viciedo (24) hits a double in the fifth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
The White Sox are in first place in the AL Central, but they'll need help from their few young players for that to continue unabated.
The Chicago White Sox aren't a young club. Now that the 34-year-old Orlando Hudson is the team's starting third baseman, the average age of the daily lineup is 30.4 years old. Luckily for them, their older players are productive: Paul Konerko (36), Adam Dunn (32) and A.J. Pierzynski (35) are three of the four oldest in the lineup, and are also Chicago's top hitters.
You expect Dunn and Konerko to hit, though, and while Pierzynski's .293/.338/.520 start is surprising, he's never been outright bad at the plate, either, especially when you consider that he's a catcher. When Pierzynski starts to slow down, and Konerko drifts back to his regular greatness from his current .366/.444/.605 perch, the White Sox will need others to pick up the pace if they want to stay atop the American League Central. That makes their few young players the real key to the season.
Since Bret Morel was removed, Chicago's lineup features only three players in their 20s: Gordon Beckham, Dayan Viciedo, and Alejandro De Aza. The 25-year-old Beckham has been around longer than the other two, but it's possible that the least is known about him. That's because Beckham has only two modes -- great and terrible -- and it's hard to predict which switch is flipped at a given time.
Take his 2010. Beckham hit .216/.277/.304 in the first half, worked on his swing during the All-Star break, and then acted as if the first 300-plus plate appearances never happened by finishing at a .310/.380/.497 clip. Since he had done so well in his inaugural campaign, it was easy to believe that the post-break Beckham was the real one, but he once again disappointed in 2011 with a 70 OPS+.
Ineffectiveness continued in 2012, with Beckham limping to a .153/.231/.203 April. He picked up three hits on May 1, and has hit a tolerable .262/.301/.445 since. It's tough to be excited about a 746 OPS, but that would be an above-average OPS, despite the low on-base percentage. It's not perfect, but more of that is preferable to anymore of that awful failure. As always, though, the question is whether or not he can keep it up.
Alejando De Aza is already 28, and until this year he wasn't a regular. His .329/.400/.520 showing in 54 games in 2011 convinced the White Sox to give him a go, though, and he's now the club's center fielder. While he hasn't been nearly as productive in 2012, there's plenty to love about a .308/.384/.429 line from a center fielder. According to the various defensive metrics, he hasn't hurt them with his glove, either. He's easily been the best of the younger bunch.
As for Viciedo, he's the one with the most upside of the group. He's all of 23 years old, and has been both highly productive (.308/.321/.519 in 2010) and disappointing, unable to force himself into the lineup full-time (.255/.327/.314 in 2011). In 2012, he's done both of those things already.
While he's at .261/.290/.462 for the season, that doesn't tell the story of how things have gone, just where they've ended up. After an 0-for-3 performance on May 13, Viciedo was hitting .196/.226/.304, was striking out nearly 30 percent of the time, had drawn just three walks on the year for a 2.8 percent rate, and had just five extra-base hits. It was looking as if Chicago's failure to force him into the lineup more often as a 22-year-old in the prior lost season made sense.
The next day, Viciedo clubbed a homer, and added a single. He didn't strike out, either, and this all added up to a batting average back over the Mendoza line. That was a month ago today, and in that and the next 25 contests, Viciedo tore it up: he struck out only 18 times in those 101 plate appearances, hit nine homers, and posted a .330/.356/.629 line.
That isn't who Viciedo is, but it's unlikely that the awful player of the season's first month-plus is, either. Without any real plate discipline or ability to draw walks, Viciedo needs to keep his strikeout rates down and put the ball in play often; good things happen when he makes contact, and oftentimes those good things involve the bleachers.
The veterans outperforming expectations are likely to regress. The wins they've contributed to can't be taken from the standings, but the White Sox will need more than a lead through mid-June to hold off their opponents. These three 20-somethings, the lone starters under 30 in the lineup, will all need to contribute for Chicago to keep winning. They're all capable, and that should give White Sox fans hope.