Josh Vitters: Will He Figure Things Out?

The Chicago Cubs drafted third baseman Josh Vitters in the first round of the 2007 MLB Draft out of high school. He was rated as Baseball America's #43 prospect heading into the 2008 season, even though he hit just .118-.164-.118 in 51 at bats in Low A and Rookie ball.

Going into the 2008 season, John wrote this about Vitters in his pre-season Cubs Top 20 Prospects;

The hardest part is the top two. Who would you rather have? Vitters or Soto? Vitters is the big-name guy, of course, the hot first round pick, young and talented. But he was so BAD after signing. How seriously should we take a 14-game sample size? Soto's ceiling isn't as high as Vitters', but he's already major league ready.

It appears John was onto something, as he questioned if the small sample size should be disregarded or not. Small samples sizes are usually disregarded but sometimes they can offer a glimpse into the future. But Baseball America was still high on him praising his hit tool and his power:

There's still debate as to which tool is more impressive, Vitters' hitting ability or his power, but the consensus is that his future potential grades as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale in both categories. He's the rare righthanded hitter whose swing gets described as pretty, and his bat speed and feel for putting the barrel on the ball are also uncommon.

In 2008, he hit .322-.357-.495 with 5 HRs, 38 RBI, 28 doubles and a 50-13 K/BB rate in 273 at bats. He didn't walk much, but displayed doubles power in his first full season in the minors. The home run power, though, was missing, but as an 18 year old in his first full season, the potential was still there.

More on Vitters after the jump:

Heading into the 2009 season, John still had some questions about Vitters' power, but ranked him as the Cubs #1 prospect with a B+ grade:

1) Josh Vitters, 3B, Grade B+: Hopefully the home run power should start to come in 2009. Great contact hitting skills and still very young.

Yes, the home run power was lacking, but the 28 doubles offered the Cubs some promise that he could turn some of those doubles into balls flying over the fence. The fact that he was still only 18 years old offered even more promise. John was not the only prospect expert with concerns about Vitters. Here is ESPN's Keith Law on him in his 2009 pre-season Top 100 prospects, but he did rank him as his 14th ranked prospect in all of baseball:

Vitters started the year slow due to a hand injury, ended up returning to short-season ball, and hit everything in sight.....he led the Northwest League in doubles at age 19 and as he fills out a little bit, some of those will go over (or through) the wall. If there's a concern, it's the very low walk total......If his patience doesn't improve and he doesn't continue to hit .320-plus, his ceiling will start to drop. If the patience comes, he's a potential No. 3 hitter who'll hit plenty of doubles and 25-plus home runs with a high average.

Vitters must have read the prospect rankings before the 2009 season, as he he went on to hit .284-.314-.456 with 18 HRs, 68 RBI, 19 doubles, and a 65-12 K/BB rate in 458 at bats, split between Low A and High A. More balls flew over the fence for Vitters, but the walk rate was borderline ridiculous. By the end of the 2009 season, Vitters had walked just 25 times in 730+ at bats. So there was still work to be done at the plate for Vitters, as his power was just average, but nothing that stood out.

Heading into the 2010 season, Baseball America had dropped him to #70 in their pre-season rankings, down from #43 in 2008 and #51 in 2009. John had the same concerns about the walk rate, but cut him some slack by giving him a B+ grade since he still wasn't striking out much.

In 2010, Vitters started the season in High A, Daytona where he hit .291-.350-.445 with 3 HRs, 13 RBI and a 22-8 K/BB rate in 110 at bats, earning him a promotion to AA Tennessee. In his 206 at bats in AA, Vitters hit just .223-.292-.383 with 7 HRs, 26 RBI and a 41-13 K/BB rate in 206 at bats. So the power and batting average dropped as he moved up to AA, and the experts really started questioning him as a top prospect. In fact, they were running for the exits. 

Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and Keith Law all dropped him from their Top 100 prospect lists heading into the 2011 season. John stated that he was losing faith in him and dropped him to #7 on his Cubs Top 20 Prospect list. Vitters started the 2011 season repeating AA, where he has shown improvement at the plate against more advanced pitching. This season, he is hitting .285-.319-.447 with 12 HRs, 67 RBI and a 48-16 K/BB rate in 396 at bats.

At this point in his minor league career, Vitters has walked an unfathomable 65 times in almost 1,500 at bats. Needless to say, he is never going to be an on-base guy. But, the power has not developed either. His career slugging percentage is just .438, and he has just 45 HRs, an for a third baseman, that is not going to cut it.

I know its a small sample size, but Vitters is hitting .338-.357-.477 in 69 August at bats with 6 extra base hits, 17 RBI and a 10-3 K/BB rate. Could it be that Vitters s turning the corner after disappointing the experts, and himself, for so long? I don't think we will know until sometime in 2012, as the Cubs have the luxury of Aramis Ramirez manning third base for them next year.

They will probably promote Vitters to AAA to start the 2012 season, as this is his second time playing in AA. Once promoted to AAA, Vitters is going to have to flash more power and a walk a few more times to earn himself a call up next season. If not, he could be just another in a long line of hyped prospects who fail to reach their potential.

Then again, Vitters is only 21 years old, and maybe the power and patience will come as he matures as a hitter. Maybe something will click on for him. Early scouting reports on him said he had one of the sweetest swings around, and Cubs fans deserve someone to get them excited about baseball again. Shortstop Starlin Castro has provided some of this, but with another losing season, Cubs fans are looking for more. Maybe Vitters flips that switch and becomes the hitter he was projected to be when he was drafted 4 years ago. Like I said, he is only 21, so he would be graduating college right now had he chosen college over baseball. 

Cubs fans hope something clicks for him in 2012. Can he turn things around in 2012?

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