The Josh Vitters‘ project is over. At least, for the 2012 season. Before the Cubs electrifying 12 to 11 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday, Cubs’ manager Dale Sveum told reporters that third baseman Luis Valbuena will receive the lion’s share of remaining starts at the third base position this season for the Chicago Cubs. With Valbuena receiving majority of the starts at third base during the final weeks of the season, that would mean that Vitters will become familiar with the bench over the course of the next several weeks.
Vitters debuted for the Cubs in early August, on the same day as fellow Cubs’ prospect Brett Jackson. Like Jackson, Vitters has struggled offensively with the Cubs during his time with the Major League team. However, Jackson has responded well to the adjustments offered by the Cubs’ coaching staff while Vitters’ has yet to respond to the tutelage of the Cubs’ coaching staff. Entering play on Friday, Vitters is currently hitting .093/.123/.185 in 54 at bats with the Cubs this season.
With Sveum putting a hold on the transition to the Vitters’ era at the third base position, that begs the question what is next for the Cubs’ third base prospect?
To find an answer, Cubs fans may want to look back at Anthony Rizzo‘s path to the Major Leagues. Remember, Rizzo struggled significantly with the San Diego Padres during the 2011 season in his first stint at the Major League level. After the Cubs traded for Rizzo, the front office opted for Rizzo to begin his season with Triple A- Iowa. The Cubs’ front office felt it was beneficial for Rizzo to have a full-season’s worth of at bats at the Triple A level, and given the overall success that Rizzo has had this season, that seems to be a practice that the Cubs’ regime will follow in the future in regards to the top prospects that ascend through the system.
Vitters had 415 at bats with the Iowa Cubs this season, meaning he will need potentially 85 to 100 more at bats at the Triple A level to translate into a full season at the Major League level. No matter where Vitters’ starts the 2013 season, I expect the third base prospect to participate in the instructional leagues during the winter in order to further his development.
If nothing changes during the off-season, I would expect that Vitters would start the season with the Iowa Cubs. Whether it is Ian Stewart or a potential pursuit of free agent to be Kevin Youkilis, the Cubs will have outside options to consider for the third base position. There would be benefits to the Cubs re-signing Stewart and giving another opportunity at the third base position, or the Cubs signing Youkilis. In Stewart’s case, the 27 year old third baseman had surgery this season on his wrist and the hope is that finally could be the pre-cursor to Stewart returning to form. Not to mention that Stewart is in the midst of the prime years (27 through 29) that Epstein and company seek in players.
The case for Youkilis is little more different. Given the history that Youkilis has with the Red Sox organization, there is a thought that he could be willing to come to the Cubs and play for Epstein at a discounted price. The 33 year old Youkilis was born again after being traded to the Chicago White Sox from the Red Sox. Youkilis is hitting .250/.368/.474 this season since joining the White Sox to go along with 12 home runs and 38 RBIs. The Cubs would not be interested in Youkilis for a long-term solution at the third base position. Rather, possibly a two year deal to keep the third base position warm for when Javier Baez or Junior Lake are ready to assume the position.
In any event, I do not envision a scenario where Vitters’ is the starting third baseman for the Cubs to begin the 2013 season. There has always been the thought that Vitters would not be long for the Cubs, as he does not fit with the type of player that Epstein fields a team with. Granted, neither does Starlin Castro, and he just received a seven year, $60 million extension. But my prediction is that if not during the off-season then during the season, Vitters will be traded as a part of a package in order to allow the Cubs to acquire prospects with greater talent.