While this may seem out of place in the middle of a Trade Deadline Blogathon, John Sickels yesterday took a deep look at Chicago Cubs’ third base prospect Josh Vitters. You’ll note throughout the trade season that the Cubs have been, from time to time, attached to various third base prospects – Mike Olt, Nick Castellanos, etc. If the Cubs were enamored with Vitters, who’s just 22 and is hitting well in AAA, you’d have to think those names wouldn’t come up.

In other words, the Cubs might not view Vitters as the long-term answer at third base. And that could make him trade bait.

In any event, here’s a snippet from Sickels’ take on Vitters:

Moved up to Triple-A Iowa for 2012, he’s hitting .303/.356/.510 with 31 doubles, 15 homers, 28 walks, and 71 strikeouts in 386 at-bats. He’s been particularly devastating against left-handed pitching, hitting .336/.383/.634 against southpaws. He’s well on his way to setting career-best marks in most categories.

So, how much of this is real and how much is Pacific Coast League statistical illusion? He’s riding a higher BABIP this year, .338 compared to .290 last season, which is part of the difference. His walk rate is up considerably, 6.7% of plate appearances compared to 4.5% last year. However, his strikeout rate is up as well, moving from 11.1% to 16.9%, granted that’s still a good strikeout rate for a guy with some power.

In league-context terms, Vitters has a +11 percent OPS compared to the rest of the Pacific Coast League. That’s not bad but it isn’t terrific either, especially for a corner player, although it does represent improvement compared to 2011, when he posted a +4 percent mark in Double-A. It is much better than the -7 percent mark he posted in ’10, so the trend lines for his production are certainly up.

Sickels offers a whole lot more than that, and it’s well worth a read. Ultimately, he thinks Vitters looks like he has regained top ten status in the Cubs’ system (which is saying something considering the moves they’ve already made this year), but questions whether his rough defense at third base will move him off the position to somewhere that he doesn’t fit quite as well (or doesn’t produce well enough for).

Taken together, you could understand why the Cubs would be reluctant to expect that Vitters is their third baseman of the future. But, man, wouldn’t it be nice to have that position locked down for the next few years by a guy who is in the same age range as the theoretical Castro/Rizzo/Jackson core?

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