[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.”

-Keith Law

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.]

  • Jeff

    I’ve actually seen Tennessee a couple of time this year and Vitters swings the bat as well as anyone on the team. Every time I see him play he is making contact on everything. Like the article says, once he learns some plate discipline and selectiveness, his natural swing is going to carry him a long way. I hope the Cubs have patience with him, even if he toils in the minors for two more seasons, he would still be a very young major leaguer at 23. Nice article, love reading up on Cubs prospects and look forward to the next one.

  • http://twitter.com/thomaswconroy TWC

    Agreed, nice article – Ace, please send our thanks to Scarey. We haven’t had one of these “Prospect Primer” posts in, what, like a year or so? Seemed like we had a bunch last summer, no?

    • Scarey

      Thanks TWC. We left off at the end of last season mostly because there isn’t much Cubs minor league action besides a handful of prospects at the AFL and some of the international leagues. With the draft finishing up, Ace and I thought this would be a great opportunity to bring back this feature, so keep an eye out.

      • http://www.bleachernation.com Ace

        Scarey does good work. Thanks, chum.

  • MichiganGoat

    I don’t follow the minors outside of the big names that are constantly mentioned, but I had no idea Vitters was only 21. He is still a baseball baby, we may being doing him a huge service by allowing him to mature in the minors vs. struggling in the majors. We can look at DeWitt as an example of what not to do with a first round pick, he was promoted quickly by the Dodgers and struggled to the point the Dodgers cut ties with a top prospect when he was only 23. I actually think that DeWitt will be a starter next year and is coming into prime, mature baseball years– he is the same age as the “kid” Barney. Give him till next year before we start to worry, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the big show when rosters expand. I would love to see a write up about Brett Jackson this was very informative.

  • KB

    Scarey, I always like to hear your thoughts on the Cub’s farm guys; this primer was yet another excellent job.
    Vitters is a confounding dude. He has no plate discipline. Yet, even scouts (like K Law) who worship plate discipline as a skill, are impressed by Vitters’ swing. The problem for the future is that I’m skeptical about how much plate discipline can be “learned.” To me, it’s like speed, or a cannon arm: you either have it or you don’t.

    Are there examples anyone can name of a well-known prospect who was hack-tastic throughout the minors, but transformed into a selective, and thus productive major-leaguer?
    Even one?

    • Jeff

      Carlos Gonzalez.

      • Jeff

        Joey Votto

        • http://BleacherNation Bric

          Corey Patterson, Luis Montanez, Ryan Harvey, Micah Hoffpauer, Micheal Burgess, Josh Vitters,… oh, wait, nevermind.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Ace

      There is a school of thought – one with which I’m not sure I agree – that some kids are hacktastic in the minors because they can hit everything down there. Why take pitches when you can wreck the ones you’re seeing? Those types, the school of thought says, can learn discipline for the first time in the bigs.

      • ecp

        Because just because you can hit a pitch doesn’t mean you should swing at it. A pitchers’ pitch is designed to induce weak contact and shouldn’t be swung at just because you can hit it. Players need to be looking for pitches against which they can make quality contact.

    • MichiganGoat

      I know I wasn’t patient or disciplined as a 21 year old. Baseball is a cerebral sport, I love hearing a hitter talk in detail about how they think as a hitter, it’s like listening to philosopher. What many minor leaguers struggle with is what to do when talent isn’t enough, that’s when your knowledge and discipline about the game has to combine with your talent. Making the show and sticking around is tough and takes the right amount of talent combined with an amazing work ethic and discipline that keeps you in the show. He is just 21, were you ready for the pressure the MLB would bring at 21?

      • http://twitter.com/thomaswconroy TWC

        I wasn’t ready for all of the mind-altering substances that I took when I was 21. I can’t imagine doing something for which millions of people would hold me accountable at that age. I’d have a hard time doing that now, and I’m mostly adult-like.

        There was a recent Sports Illustrated article about Jeter’s quest for 3,000 hits (last week-ish, perhaps?) that was pretty interesting. In contrast to the more cerebral approach to hitting that MG refers to, Jeter’s method is “see ball, swing, make contact, run”, and it’s served him pretty well.

        • MichiganGoat

          Exactly, I’d have a hell of a time hitting the multiple baseballs I’d be seeing if I was 20 and I’d have traces to help me see them. As for Jeter that’s him being modest, and all so cool, I’ve heard him talk about the preparations and the thought process behind hitting.

          • http://twitter.com/thomaswconroy TWC

            Since the article was a bit of a Jeter fluff piece, I assumed that there was much myth-creating to it, but I thought it was worth a mention. As to your (*ahem*) other comment, it’s always worth remembering what CAN be accomplished in the right set and setting: Dock Ellis, 6/12/70.

      • hardtop

        you also werent a 1st round pick athlete for a historic major league team in a super huge market. im just sayin.. you might have been a different goat under these circumstances.
        i hear what your saying though. in my opinion, 1st round position players should be developing nicely in year 4, or at least showing steady progress. being that he is back and forth (more back, less forth) im thinking vitters is the next cubs 1st round bust…. i hope im wrong.