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Minor League Notes, July 1st, 2011

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Chicago Cubs prospect Josh Vitters (Photo by Ezra Shaw, Getty Images)
Chicago Cubs prospect Josh Vitters (Photo by Ezra Shaw, Getty Images)

Minor League Notes, July 1st, 2011

**I really don't like the idea of pulling the plug on a prospect who is just 21 years old, but it is time we faced some facts about Chicago Cubs cornerman Josh Vitters. He still has the pretty swing, but his .279/.315/.442 line in 69 games for Double-A Tennessee is just not impressive, and his miniscule walk rate and impatience is in danger of dragging down his career.

Vitters boosters will point to the fact that he's fanned just 19 times and is still young for the level, and they have a point. It is still plausible that he'll emerge as the player Cubs officials dream on, hitting for a high batting average with power. But while plausible, it no longer seems probable to me. His game is so strongly dependent on his batting average that, unless he can consistently hit .300 or higher, which seems doubtful to me, his OBP will be a drag on the offense.

He's on course for a 14-homer season this year, which just isn't enough for a corner guy, especially a first baseman. I note that his third base fielding percentage is down to .869 this year and that his range factor in 47 games there is terrible. He's also played 26 games at first base, and it would surprise no one if Vitters ends up there in the end. And if that happens, he'll really have to pick up the hitting to play regularly in a major league lineup.

It isn't too late for him, but he's got to make significant progress in the second half to still rank as an elite prospect.

**Los Angeles Angels third base prospect Kaleb Cowart is off to a terrific start in the Pioneer League, going 19-for-37 (.514) with five walks and four steals in his first 10 games for Orem. Drafted in the first round last year out of high school in Adel, Georgia, Cowart excites Angels brass with his power potential and strong throwing arm. Most teams liked him better as a pitcher, but Cowart wanted to hit and the Angels obliged. It's very early obviously, but the first returns are certainly positive and he could end up at Low-A Cedar Rapids by August if he continues to blister the ball like this.

**Last year people wondered if Kyle Seager's .345/.419/.503 line in the California League was just another High Desert heat mirage. So far, the Seattle Mariners prospect is proving the doubters wrong, hitting .312/.381/.459 in 66 games for Double-A Jackson to earn a promotion to Triple-A Tacoma, where he's off to a very fast start (14-for-27, .519 in six games). Overall he's hitting .331/.398/.485 this year. A third round pick out of North Carolina in '09, Seager is a pure hitter with plenty of gap power and a feel for the strike zone. His best defensive position is third base, but he's not terrible at second base and shortstop despite limited middle infield range. I like him.

**St. Louis Cardinals third base prospect Zack Cox is having a difficult transition to Double-A. Drafted in the first round last year from the University of Arkansas, he was supposed to be a highly-advanced college bat who could zip through the minors. He signed a major league contract with $6 million, but if his current performance is any indicator he won't be ready for the Show soon.

He began the year hitting .335/.380/.439 in 42 games for High-A Palm Beach, but since moving up to Springfield in the Texas League he's hitting a mere .207/.290/.293 in 116 at-bats, 32 games. He's a line drive hitter and perhaps is having some bad BABIP luck right now, but on the other hand he's supposed to be a contact expert, yet he's striking out once per game with 31 whiffs in 116 at-bats. He's also struggling with the glove, with 10 errors leading to an abysmal .885 fielding percentage. It is way too early to conclude that he's a bust, but Cox obviously has a lot of work to do on both sides of the ball.