It has become crystal clear that the Chicago Cubs are a team heading towards a complete rebuild. With a revamped staff running the front office the team appears prepared to make sweeping changes. Sean Marshall was sent packing for younger talent, while Aramis Ramirez was allowed to walk via free agency and Anthony Rizzo was acquired to be the first baseman of the future.
A few years ago we all would’ve thought that Josh Vitters, selected third overall back in 2007, would be ready to step in and takeover at third base at this point. However, his production has fallen far short of all the expectations.
However, he is still just 22-years old and could finally be prepared to turn the corner and establish himself as the third baseman of the future for the Cubs. He is coming off a solid season at Double-A (where he spent the entire season), hitting .283 with 14 HR and 81 RBI in 449 AB.
He drew only 22 walks (a 4.5% walk rate), something that has continued to be a problem since being drafted. In 316 AB in ’10 (splitting time between Single & Double-A), he drew just 21 walks. If he wants to excel at the upper levels of the minor leagues he is going to need to be much more selective at the plate.
That’s not to say that he doesn’t have good plate discipline, as he struck out just 54 times last season (an 11.1% strikeout rate). You would think that, with that type of ability to make contact, he has a very good eye at the plate. Unfortunately it has not gone hand-in-hand to date.
Baseball America, who ranked him as the team’s ninth best prospect recently, said the following:
“Vitters still shows the short stroke, bat speed, strength and ability to barrel the ball that made him the No. 3 pick. He recognizes pitches well, makes consistent contact and uses the whole field. However, he has yet to develop the patience to draw walks and lay off pitches he can’t punish. His 22 walks in 2011 represented a career high. Vitters has shed a reputation for being laid-back and has worked hard to improve his defense. He has a solid arm but fringy quickness, speed and range.”
You love to hear that he is working hard to improve himself. You also have to love the fact that he continued his strong performance at the plate in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .360 with 4 HR and 17 RBI in 100 AB. He also struck out just 10 times, while walking 4.
It was basically just a continuation of his 2011 success. During the regular season he added 28 doubles and 2 triples, while he added an additional 6 doubles in the AFL. It’s clear that the guy can hit the ball with authority and make consistent contact. In other words, he has the makings of a successful bat. Is he going to be a 30+ HR threat? Probably not, but if he can hit .275 with close to 20 HR, he could find success.
However, scouts’ views of him have been consistently declining. Prior to the 2011 season Baseball America had ranked him as the team’s fifth best prospect. Prior to 2010 they had ranked him as the third best prospect. Prior to 2009 he had been ranked the team’s top prospect.
In other words, while the numbers last season offered reason for optimism there is also reason to be concerned with his upside. Yes, it’s possible the Cubs’ talent has improved over the past four years, but to see a top prospect slide down the rankings that consistently makes something clear. The scouts are clearly seeing something that worries them and it’s possible that his upside just isn’t what people had originally expected.
Does that mean we should write him off? Absolutely not, as he wouldn’t be the first player that the scouts gave up on that was able to resurrect his career.
I would expect Vitters to open the year at Triple-A and, depending on what happens in Chicago, will likely make his Major League debut in 2012. Having played some 1B in the AFL he can also add some depth there, though the acquisition of Anthony Rizzo avoids the need for him there.
He clearly still has upside, so depending on your format it makes sense to either stash him or keep a close eye on him. While his value could be limited, there is obviously something that drew people to him originally. It is very possible that it is just taking a little longer for him to show that talent on the field.
What are your thoughts of Vitters? Do you think he can be a productive option in 2012? Why or why not?
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