[Ed.: This is a guest post, written by a friend of the program, Scarey from Sons of Ivy. When it comes to Cubs prospects, few know the organization better than Scarey, and he's offered to throw us some of his insights, teed up here for you with minimal editing from yours truly. Up today, the Cubs' first round pick in 2007, and flashpoint for diverging opinions, Josh Vitters.]
Josh Vitters. A name that way too many Cubs fans have associated with disappointment.
Vitters is, of course, the well-known Cubs prospect, selected third overall in the 2007 draft. The reason for the disappointment is due to Vitters’ up-and-down results since being drafted. However, the numbers don’t always tell the whole story.
After a long holdout (due to his agent’s refusal to sign before 2nd overall pick Mike Moustakas signed), Vitters started out his pro career in Mesa with the rookie club, and got a quick promotion to Boise where he played with the Cubs’ short season A-ball affiliate, the Hawks. A slow start did not ingratiate him to fans. But his 2007 numbers were quickly forgotten after hitting .328/.365/.498 for the Hawks in his 2008 season.
In 2009, Vitters started on fire at A-ball affiliate Peoria, but an aggressive promotion to Daytona yielded mediocre results to the tune of a .604 OPS in 196 plate appearances. Vitters than had an eerily similar year in 2010, where he hit well in Daytona at high A-ball, but followed that with a mediocre showing in AA Tennessee after another aggressive promotion.
Obviously Vitters has shown inconsistency at the plate, but that’s not for his lack of hitting ability. Out of high school, there was a consensus among scouts that Vitters was a natural with the bat. He was picked by many as the top bat in the draft, primarily for his mechanically sound swing and hand-eye coordination acuity. Ironically, this actually seems to be his problem.
Keith Law and other well respected baseball figures have noted that Vitters is too good at making contact. So good that he tends to swing and make contact on pitcher’s pitches, which induces easy grounders or lazy fly balls.
“[Vitters] has a tendency to lunge at balls anywhere on the outer half.”
His statistics support this theory. Vitters is a guy that has never really struck out or walked too much. In 1411 career minor league plate appearances, Vitters has struck out a total of 211 times and walked 57 times. His minor league BABIP (batting average of balls in play) has always been poor. For these reasons, many scouts believe that, if Vitters can become more selective, he can really take off and be worthy of the 3rd overall pick that the Cubs made him.
The other point to keep in mind: he’s only 21 years old. Maybe Cubs fans were spoiled with the recent phenom, Starlin Castro, zooming through the system as a 20-year old. It’s hard to expect that of every infield prospect who lands with the Cubs. But, given Vitters’ age and current minor league level, he is still technically ahead of schedule.
Vitters not only has work to do on his approach at the plate if he is to become the 3rd baseman the Cubs have envisioned, he also has some work to do on his defense. Last year, during the Arizona Fall League, Vitters drew praise for his defensive improvement at 3rd base. He’s made 13 errors this year in just 45 games, however. He’s also had time at 1B, but most agree that he doesn’t hit for the kind of power the Cubs would need at the 1st base position.
It’s tough to keep holding out hope for someone who’s been as inconsistent as Vitters, but the potential is through the roof if he can tap into a better approach at the plate. And if that happens, the Cubs can worry about where to play him later.
[ed. This year, Vitters has a .283/.320/.451 line in 241 PAs, which is a bit of a comeback for him - he started out terribly. He recently missed a few games after taking a pitch off the head (Vitters' two previous serious injuries both came on HBP - freaking Cubs' luck), so it may take a little while to get back on track. Still, he's struck out just 19 times this year, which is insane. Kid knows how to make contact, if nothing else.]