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Request is no shock to him

Sox want power from Sweeney

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / March 4, 2012
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FORT MYERS, Fla. - Ryan Sweeney looks the part of a slugger. He is 6 feet 4 inches, 225 pounds, and appears to spend a fair amount of time in the weight room. When the White Sox took him in the second round of the 2003 draft, the expectation was that he would develop into a run-producing corner outfielder.

But over parts of six seasons with the White Sox and Athletics, Sweeney has just 14 home runs - including one in each of the last two seasons.

He has hit for average, proven adept at getting on base, and is an outstanding defensive player. But Sweeney has the reputation for being an underachiever because he lacks power.

“I’ve heard it my whole career,’’ he said yesterday before the Red Sox beat Northeastern, 25-0, in the first game of a doubleheader. “I just don’t think that’s me. I’ve always hit line drives my whole career. It would be nice to hit 10 or 12 home runs a year. It just hasn’t happened.’’

Manager Bobby Valentine doesn’t accept that. In the 27-year-old Sweeney, he sees a player capable of much more.

When the Sox obtained Sweeney from Oakland in December, Valentine studied game tapes and reviewed statistics to get a sense of what he had to work with.

“Watching him, I don’t think he knows himself as well as he should, especially as a hitter,’’ Valentine said. “It seems like in the outfield he has a very good sense of who he is. I’m not sure he has a great sense of who he is at the plate.’’

And the lack of power?

“Bad mechanics,’’ Valentine said. “Doesn’t know himself as a hitter.’’

Perhaps Sweeney took a step on the road to discovering what he can do with a big performance against the Huskies. He was 4 for 5 with a home run and five RBIs.

Sweeney pulled a three-run homer to right field in the sixth inning. But history suggests he will be able to take advantage of left field at Fenway Park.

“I’ve always liked playing there,’’ said Sweeney, whose first major league hit came at Fenway in 2006, a single to right field off Kason Gabbard. “Guys that I’ve played with or against have said that park would be a good one for me. So I was excited when the trade happened.’’

Hitting coach Dave Magadan is working with Sweeney on having more rhythm at the plate as opposed to being too stiff. Valentine saw that in the swing that produced the home run.

“That was a good little confidence-builder for Ryan,’’ he said.

Being around accomplished lefthanded power hitters such as David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez could help, too.

“I don’t think we’ve seen his best,’’ said reliever Andrew Bailey, who played with Sweeney in Oakland and was part of the trade. “Ryan has a lot of ability. It’s just a question of when he puts it together.’’

Sweeney hit .265 with the Athletics last season as he tried to adjust to sporadic playing time.

“Last year, they overloaded on outfielders,’’ he said. “They played the guys who were older and had more experience and were getting paid more. I expected a trade and for some reason it didn’t happen. Last year was just a weird year.’’

About the only good part of last season was getting to see the premiere of “Moneyball’’ in Oakland and hanging out with Brad Pitt at the party afterward.

“He was a cool guy,’’ Sweeney said. “He had security guys with him but he was talking to the players for a little. We all got photos with him. My wife flew in for that.’’

When the trade finally came, Sweeney rejoiced. The Red Sox have a hole in right field that he could help fill. A tandem of Sweeney and righthanded-hitting Cody Ross is appealing given the lack of production the Sox had at the position last season.

Ross homered twice and drove in five runs yesterday.

Sweeney, who grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, took an unusual path to the majors. High school baseball is played in the summers in Iowa, so he mixed that commitment with an ambitious travel schedule designed to put him in front of scouts.

“There aren’t that many players in Iowa. I was always going to California or Florida or Arizona to play,’’ he said.

Sweeney also expected his future would be as a pitcher. His fastball got up to 94 miles per hour in high school and he hit spots with his secondary pitches. But the White Sox, intrigued by his size and athletic ability, drafted him as an outfielder.

Sweeney’s brother, 20-year-old Kellen, is a third baseman in the Toronto organization. He also was a second-round pick.

Sweeney spent five years with the Chicago organization before being traded to Oakland with lefthander Gio Gonzalez and righthander Fautino De Los Santos for Nick Swisher in 2008.

“Oakland worked out pretty well for a while,’’ said Sweeney, who met his wife, Natasha, in California. “But playing at a place like Boston is something I can’t wait to experience. The guys here have been great. I’m anxious to see what I can do.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.

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