He’s been talked about at first and third. He’s been named one of the best prospects in the Cubs system. He spent this past season fighting off a wrist injury and went to the AFL to prove he was healthy. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Josh Vitters.
Perhaps more than anyone else in the Cubs farm system, Josh Vitters needs to prove he can hit elite pitching, and he needs to do it in a hurry. In 63 games at AA this year he hit just .223 and slugged an anemic .383. Those are not good numbers for a guy whose primary position is opening up at the major league level in 2012. Granted, there is a lot of baseball to be played between now and Aramis Ramierez’ contract ending, but the AFL statistical indicators do not play into Vitters favor, right now.
At least, not all of them. But as is so often the case in baseball, the big flashy stats we always look at are somewhat misleading. To get a better idea what we can expect from Vitters, we need to look behind the numbers just a bit.
The good news is he is getting a fair amount of at bats, which he badly needed. In his 55 AB in the AFL Vitters has hit .255 with a .436 SLG. Not great, but not terrible either. The rise in slugging percentage in particular is good to see. Of course, .255 is not likely to land him in Wrigley this season.
But the rest of the numbers tell a bit of a different story. In those 55 AB he has just 6 strikeouts to go with 5 walks. Anyone who only strikes out 11% of the time and still hits for power is someone worth keeping an eye on. That strike out rate is half what he showed us prior to his injury in 2010 and is a good indicator that he is seeing the ball well and is able to consistently make contact.
Pushing into the numbers a little further, we notice that he is hitting .318 with runners in scoring position. As I noted with Flaherty earlier, this likley is a sign that he does well against the fast ball. His 14 hits in Arizona have plated 11 RBIs. That’s not too shabby either.
This is not the offensive juggernaut of a campaign we were hoping for, but it is not a completely lackluster campaign either. The strikeout numbes are great to see, and so is the fact that Vitters is just getting plenty of at bats as he recovers from the wrist injury.
So, where does he go from here? I still think if Ramierez goes down to injury this season, Vitters will get a crack at the majors. There may be more advanced hitters at third base in front of him, but Vitters still projects as the best third base prospect in the upper minors. With a good spring I think he might jump Tennessee and go straight to Iowa for the first time, not so much because his production rates the promotion, but because Tennessee might be full of high level infield prospects looking for at bats. Regardless of whether he is fighting for at bats in Tennessee or playing first and third for Iowa, if Vitters can hit within shouting distance of .300, he will likely be a September call up.
However, he may well be traded before then. As I said, the Cubs have a nice crop of infield prospects on the way, including a shortstop that should force Starlin Castro to a new position. With the Padres likely to trade Adrian Gonzalez and looking a bit thin at third, the Padres may insist Vitters be included in any deal.