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In long run, Sox expect Sweeney to go long
David Justice hit only six home runs in his third professional season.
Will Clark his 10 his last year in the minor leagues and 11 his rookie year with San Francisco before breaking out with 35 his second season on his way to becoming one of the best first basemen in San Francisco history.
That's why the White Sox believe time is on Ryan Sweeney's side as he tries to incorporate power into his offensive game.
"Every time I see this kid in spring training, I really like what I see," Sox hitting coach Greg Walker said. "I just think he has to mature and hang on to the same efficient swing for a full year, and you'll see higher power numbers as he gets older and older."
In four professional seasons, Sweeney, 21, has impressed the Sox as much with his willingness to learn as much as with his .295 minor-league batting average.
His only glaring deficiency is a lack of power. His 13 home runs at Triple-A Charlotte this year nearly doubled his previous season high but fell short of Sox expectations for a 6-foot-4-inch, 200-pound outfielder with a sweet left-handed swing.
"You look at his numbersthey say he's not going to be a power hitter," said Walker, who will visit LaGuaira of the Venezuelan League this winter to oversee Sweeney's progress. "He might not be a 40-home run guy, but this guy should hit for power. I'm talking doubles, triples and home runs. He should drive the ball, gap to gap.
"He's a physically talented kid and very coachable. That's what I've liked about him. He has natural instincts and he has a chance to be a very good player."
Since joining the White Sox organization as a second-round pick in the 2003 draft out of Xavier High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Sweeney has displayed his fearlessness. Less than one month after turning 19, Sweeney collected hits off the likes of Bartolo Colon, LaTroy Hawkins and Carlos Zambrano in exhibition games.
Last spring Sweeney batted .357 with three home runs and was one of the team's final cuts.
Walker, however, noticed a change in Sweeney when he was promoted from Charlotte to the Sox on Sept. 1.
"I've seen him have three types of mechanical swings since he has been here," Walker said.
"I know he's only 21. Our minor-league people changed him onceand wrongly so. This spring, it was a totally different swing, but it worked. But there are different ways to do it. You can hold your hands in 100 different spots as long as you know how to get your swing to the point [of attack].
"This spring he had an efficient swing and hit for power. He went to Triple A and lost that, and he changed his swing again. His swing mechanically worked, but it wasn't efficient. In the last two weeks [of the regular season], we got back to where he was in spring training. When he's efficient, he's going to hit for power."
Sweeney is aware the Sox want more power from him. That will be a point of emphasis in Venezuela.
But Walker said he believes Sweeney isn't far from attaining that goal because he wants to improve.
"If a small guy hits a golf ball far, it's because he has an efficient swing," Walker said. "And, under pressure that you duplicate, that's what we look for. You take your physical gifts and take a mechanical, efficient swing, and the last piece of the puzzle is approach.
"You make sure you have a good pitch to swing at because it's a lot harder to put a good efficient swing on a bad pitch than a strike. So you try to do thing three thingsphysical ability, an efficient swing and good approach. And that's maxing out."