Heading into the 2012 season, third baseman Josh Vitters was ranked tenth by both Baseball America and Cubbies Crib amongst Cubs prospects. The third-overall pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, Vitters has taken a full five years to ascend the minor league ranks, irking some Cubs fans. Upon being called up, the 22-year old has hit a wall – both in his performance and the emergence of Luis Valbuena as a viable option for Chicago.
Valbuena had struggled through much of July, hitting just .176 in 24 games for the Cubs, before catching fire in the month of August, hitting a robust .306 in 24 games. During the same stretch, Vitters posted a dismal .086 average in 18 games, with only five hits in 58 at-bats.
With the Cubs main goal remaining this season being avoiding a 100-loss campaign, the question has emerged over which man should take control of the third base position for Chicago during the season’s final month. Some suggest that Vitters should get the opportunity and experience during a campaign that has no bearing on future success for the Cubs. However, here is why Valbuena should continue to see the majority of time through September.
As a team, Chicago hit just .224 as a team, and through the first six days of September things have not improved. In fact, things have gotten worse for the team offensively, as they have posted a sickly .195 average in five games. Valbuena has come back to earth, barely keeping himself above the Mendoza line – going 2-for-10 with two walks. In eight at-bats in September, Vitters is hitless, but to his credit – he has also drawn two walks.
Valbuena has been a journeyman over the last four seasons, playing in Seattle and Cleveland before being picked up by the Cubs mid-season. His career fielding percentage at third base is .947, and albeit with a much smaller sample size, Vitters comes in at .738, having committed two errors in seventeen games.
The real question that no one can but attempt to answer is whether or not Vitters will ever pan out to be the player Chicago imagined he could be when they selected him with their first-round pick five years ago. Upon being drafted, Vitters was ranked in the top 100 prospects in all of baseball, ranking #43 in ’08, and continually falling after that – to #51 in ’09 and #70 in 2010 before falling out of the rankings altogether.
His best professional season came this summer with Triple-A Iowa, in which he hit .310 with 17 home runs and 68 RBIs. He neared his career-high with a .356 on-base percentage and slugged over .500 in a full season for the first time as a professional. It seemed as if he had finally hit his stride, but as evidenced above – has struggled at the major league level.
Check out the Cubbies Crib poll question and let us know – Who do you think should start at third for the remainder of the season?