When you’re drafted 3rd overall, the expectations are high. And Josh Vitters‘ the Chicago Cubs‘ 3rd overall pick in 2007, has the potential to live up to the hype. He has a beautiful swing with nice power and he’s adept at making contact. Defensively, his motions are good and he has a very good arm. Yet Vitters has never really blossomed into that player the Cubs expected to get with the 3rd overall pick. Is 2012 when Vitters finally puts it all together?
Vitters had a solid season at Double-A Tennessee in 2011, playing most of the season as a 21 year old in a league where the average was 24 years old. He hit .283 with 28 doubles, 14 homers, 81 RBI, and a .448 slugging percentage in 129 games. His big problem which has been scouts’ biggest concern throughout Vitters’ pro career was his OBP, which came in at just .322. He didn’t strike out at all, just 54 times, 11.1% of his plate appearances compared to the league average of 18.7%, but he walked just 22 times, just 4.6% of his plate appearances compared to Southern League average of 9.1%. Defensively, Vitters made some strides, but he still posted just a .903 Fld%, leading Southern League third basemen in errors with 21 despite playing 32 games at first base. But hidden in there were some positives.
Considering how much Vitters puts the ball in play (79.7% of his plate appearances in 2011 compared to the league average of 68.0%), his batting average has a lot to do with his BAbip luck. But Vitters has nice batted ball tendencies. His nice bat speed doesn’t really lead to flyballs, but a good balance of hits between flyballs to the outfield, line drives, and groundballs. According to Minor League Central, 33.0% of his batted balls were flyballs to the outfield compared to the league average of 28.6% making up for the fact that his 14.8% line drive percentage was a bit below the league average of 17.5%. Vitters should at least be a .280 hitter going forward, and he has enough power to realistically hit 35 doubles and 20 home runs. But the big question is his plate discipline. Will he ever start walking a higher rate?
As it turns out, Vitters showed a nice eye in 2011. He swung at 9.4% of pitches he saw out of the zone compared to the league average of 11.1%, and somewhat surprisingly, he didn’t swing all that often on pitches in the zone, 75.5% of the time compared to the league average of 71.5% of the time. If Vitters can keep that trend going, he’s going to have to walk more than he does. And if that happens, Vitters turns into a very interesting prospect, being a power threat who walks a decent amount but doesn’t strike out.
Will Vitters actually break out in 2012? Maybe, maybe not. But he showed something positive in terms of his plate discipline in 2011 and that’s really the one glaring thing missing from him as a prospect. If Vitters can walk at just an average rate, his prospect status will shoot up. Vitters is heading to Triple-A as a 22 year old. The Cubs know all his talent is still there. 2012 could be the year where he finally takes advantage of all his talent and impresses the Cubs and scouts everywhere. And if that happens, don’t be surprised if Vitters ends the year with a big league opportunity in September at Wrigley Field.
For more on the Cubs, please check out Cubbies Crib.