Josh Vitters came to the Cubs with the third overall pick in the 2007 draft as the reward for their dismal 2006 campaign, a highly touted high school third base prospect with an enviable right-handed swing, tremendous raw power, and almost no glove whatsoever. After a year of demolishing both the Northwest and Midwest Leagues (slashing .328/.365/.498 in 61 games at Boise in 2008 and .316/.351/.535 in the first 70 games of 2009), Vitters was promoted to Daytona, where his star began to fade a bit. A .238/.260/.344 line in 50 games suggested that young Mr. Vitters had trouble laying off much of anything, and FSL pitchers obliged him by letting him flail at junk. Vitters would eventually adjust to the FSL, hitting .291/.350/.445 in 28 games of a repeat trip through the league in 2010, but the book was out on Vitters, and he would go on to struggle once more in his first go at Tennessee.
Vitters' struggles at A+ and AA sent the spotlight elsewhere, until his arrival in the hitter-friendly PCL brought with it a resurgence and a bit of new attention. A 2012 season in Des Moines that spanned 110 games and offered not only a .304/.356/.513 line, but also his highest walk rate at any level of pro ball (a paltry 6.6%, but nonetheless…) had people talking about Vitters as something other than a total disappointment. His solid performance earned him a mid-year callup to the majors, where he once again struggled to adjust to more advanced pitching. His 30.3% strikeout rate over 109 PAs had people dismissing Vitters once more as a bust, a flailer with no pitch recognition skills and a Yakety Sax glove at third. He began 2013 looking to rebuild his confidence in AAA and earn another look with the major league club, the hope being that he might continue his pattern of struggling intially at a new level before adjusting and performing well.
Unfortunately, 2013 was something of a lost season for Vitters, who made three different trips to the disabled list and managed only 100 PAs in 28 games. While his performance was very solid when he managed to be on the field for the I-Cubs (.295/.380/.511, with 11 walks for an 11% walk rate, compared to 30 walks in 452 PAs in his first trip through AAA), muscle strains of all sorts plagued him throughout the year, first his lower back, then his rib cage, then finally a hamstring. The good news is that, despite all the injury setbacks, Vitters' game didn't completely implode a la Brett Jackson.
Vitters has come to represent something of a cautionary tale for high draft picks, and how difficult it is to determine pre-draft how a hitter's pitch recognition and plate patience skillsets will develop. Scouts still love his swing; Keith Law was briefly complimentary of it on a recent installment of his Behind the Dish podcast before caveating that his good swing is useless if he can't lay off a ball out of the zone, and on a recent episode of the Fringe Average podcast, Jason Parks mentioned that Vitters was the first prospect he thought was a can't-miss, superstar talent that he was completely wrong about.
Everything with Vitters depends on his ability to make adjustments and differentiate pitches he can drive from junk — an ability he hasn't really shown anywhere as a professional. Though his walk rates have improved as he's gotten both older and more experienced with a particular league, they're still below average, and it's unlikely they'd look any better in an extended major league look.
Vitters' glove at third has proven almost as problematic as his batting eye, a problem the organization will try to remedy by moving him to the outfield this offseason.
Vitters has been in the organization for a long time now, with big highs and lows in his prospect status along the way. He's been around so long and is so familiar that it's easy to forget that he's a year younger than Mike Olt, with better contact abilities and minus a year of complete implosion at the plate. Yes, Vitters' indiscerning pitch recognition will keep him from ever being the superstar he may have seemed upon being drafted, but there still exists the potential for him to become a useful player.
Despite the dismal batting eye, I'd still like to see Vitters get one more chance with the big club if he can start next season relatively healthy. He's shown the ability to adjust and eventually provide solid production at every level he's played, despite initial (and occasionally lengthy) struggles. The Cubs are, in all likelihood, going to be pretty lousy again next season, with nobody currently blocking Vitters in left. It would seem pretty harmless to me to give Vitters a month or two to see if he can become discerning enough to let the solid swing and big power make him a productive player. Odds are he's a Quad-A player in the making, but, personally, I'd like to know for sure.
2013 Cubs Prospect Reviews
- Matt Szczur
- Trevor Clifton
- Trey Masek
- Logan Watkins
- Willson Contreras
- Corey Black
- Yoanner Negrin
- Tyler Alamo
- Marco Hernandez
- Shawon Dunston, Jr.
- Ben Wells
- Brett Jackson
- Armando Rivera
- CJ Edwards
- Dillon Maples
- Duane Underwood
- Zack Godley
- Justin Grimm
- Arodys Vizcaino
- Zeke DeVoss
- Jae-Hoon Ha
- Ivan Pineyro
- Alberto Cabrera
- Paul Blackburn
- Yasiel Balaguert
- Josh Vitters
I’m surprised Parks thought Vitters was a can’t miss prospect. I’ve not heard one person say that about him and even early on I remember the scouting reports being that he was too happy to swing the bat. Weird.
I’d have to dig up the exact quote, but it was something like “Vitters was the first guy I saw whose bat sounded different than anyone else, that made me stop what I was doing and go see who that was. I thought there was no way this kid was not going to be an elite, impact talent.”
Baseball America’s scouting report on him at the time of the draft was impressive too (ranked 3rd)
lame but bryant/almora/soler will still be fun as shit to watch.
I’m guessing Baez is just getting the AFL on the not so off chance that he makes the Cubs out of spring training. Not that I think it’s likely. I don’t. I’d put the odds at 25%, but I think there is a decent chance the Cubs leave Mesa with him. If that’s the case, there’s no reason to have him play in the AFL. Otherwise, he plays.
Really, I think the only reason to have him sit out this fall is that there’s a decent chance he makes the team.
He also played 30 more games this season than he did last season. Not that he was showing signs of wearing down at the end of the season, but he did get hurt in the AFL last year, and with the season he had, he’s earned a break.
I think I’m most excited to see what Vizcaino does.
I suppose that could be it, but I’d lean toward it not being why. They would have had a good idea of his total games played this year when they announced those rosters. I think if that was the deciding factor they’d have chosen someone else so he could be prepared to play in the AFL this whole time. Since I’m putting odds on things tonight, I’d put that at 10% or less. They’ve had a couple weeks since the season ended to think about this one so if it was total games played, they’d have made it earlier. I think.
I do think there’s a reasonable chance he makes the team out of spring training. Seems to me that has to be the most likely reason. I was actually thinking about writing an article about this, but that was a week or 10 days ago.
If I were running things, I think I’d be leaning toward him being with the team on Opening Day next year and I’m the guy who doesn’t like any prospects and still think it more likely he doesn’t succeed at that level. The only question I’d really be pondering this offseason is at what position he plays. I’d lean toward shortstop on that one, but the Cubs know a hell of a lot more about his defensive abilities than I do.
I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he’s better than Starlin Castro right now. Castro will almost likely be better next season than he’s been this year, but I still don’t think he’s much of a hitter. He hasn’t been to this point and I really see no reason to think he’s going to develop in that area.
I wouldn’t hesitate to start the season with him next year. I don’t think service time should be a consideration.
Was anyone else surprised at how small Vitters was when he got to the bigs? I feel like the scouts may have seen a guy they projected into a medium-build 3B/LF type, but he looks like Darwin Barney at the plate. He looked 18 or 19 up there. This should have mattered to somebody during this process. I wonder what comparisons the front office made. He’s not a Longoria (also a #3 overall). Only the hit tool projected above average. But in fairness to the Cubs, that draft sucked, and the best they could have done was Bumgarner, Heyward, or Wieters. A lot of clubs came away with a zero that year, and there are always guys who surprise everyone. Trout was not hyped.
Also, I don’t think I’ve ever seen worse defense from an infielder than from Vitters at 3B in 2012. I thought the right move was for him to straight to OF after that. He just looked so shaky that I can imagine it crossed over into his hitting. Maybe the mental maturity is just not there yet either. There’s no point selling so low on him (unless they have to clear a 40 man spot), and there’s no immediate outfield help coming.
Regarding Baez, I think the only reason for him to be in MiLB is if he’s learning a new position. Unless you want to make a SSS argument, he’s just not being challenged by MiLB pitching. But if they want to get him set at 2B at AAA (the only other good choice with the depth at 3B), then they can have him rake there until the service time is right.
I don’t know what you do with Castro if Baez is at SS. If Starlin goes to third, they expect to have multiple competing prospects there. 2B could work. It would mitigate some of the defensive issues. At this point, OF is a nonstarter unless you can be sure he can bat close to .300 or significantly improve the power output.
Perhaps the best outcome would be to let Castro start the season at short and then trade him for the highest value available in the first half. If he has one hot month out of the first three, that might end up enticing a dumb team like the Mets or Phillies that could use young help in the infield.
Baez at short and Castro at second with Barney as sub of def replacement seems very logical. Remember when Castro came up there was some debate on if he should play ss or 2b? But his bat made more sense at ss.
Maybe the Yankees will pay us a billion dollars to have ARod keep 3b warm for Bryant even if dmick doesn’t think Bryant will make the bigs.
He was 23. There was still a fair amount of projection left to his frame. And Vitters’ raw power was and remains in the 65 range or so. It wasn’t a mistake to draft Vitters with the third overall pick; if anything, the developmental side of the organization failed him by not working with him to fix his pitch recognition issues while he was still in the low minors and could hit everything he looked at. Even then, he might have just been destined to be a bust. Doesn’t mean he’s a Hayden Simpson or anything. Top level draft talents bust all the time.
Braun’s 2007 was about the worst defensive infield performance I can personally remember watching, but I never watched Yuni on an everyday basis.
I think there’s value in keeping Baez in the minors to start the season. Yes the PCL is a hitter friendly league that he’ll likely dominate, but there’s enough veterans with decent command and pitchability floating around AAA that he should face some guys that can exploit him without his confidence getting wrecked. Letting him get 100, 200 PAs at Iowa and saying “show us you can take the patience you showed in AA with you to the next level” I think reinforces what you want him to learn, and maybe makes him less likely to come up hacking at everything trying to prove he belongs in the majors.
I’d be really, really surprised, all things considered, if Baez breaks camp with Chicago.
Ooh, the sound off his bat was different than anyone else’s. That’s some top notch evaluation there.
Suburban kidQuote Reply
Suburban kid wrote:
You joke, but I’ve seen the same thing in scouting reports about Baez.
Suburban kidQuote Reply
I would have picked Vitters in the 9th round. No signing bonus.
I bet it gets said about lots of guys. Lots of guys ————-> different sound than anyone else. That’s a lot of different sounds.
Suburban kidQuote Reply
@ Suburban kid:
Maybe the difference in sound is caused by bat speed, so a player with exceptional bat speed might create a different enough sound for scouts to notice? I don’t know how the physics of sound and baseball work though.
This. It’s about how much compression you’re getting on the ball. Same reason why in golf hackers with 70 mph swing speeds don’t get the same sound out of their driver as touring pros that swing at 130. Faster bat speed = more compression = more distance, different sound.
I’m pretty sure they have ways to measure bat speed without resorting to how the bat sounds to a particular scout.
I also am a physics moron, but I’m guessing the variables of bat manufacturer, bat weight and density, speed of pitch, type of pitch, distance of scout’s ear from home plate, direction of scout’s ear from home plate, scout’s hearing, and a whole bunch of other things also make different cracks of the bat sound different.
Suburban kidQuote Reply
But if it just got him to notice him, rather than to declare him an impact talent on the spot, then fair enough.
Suburban kidQuote Reply
Sounds like the wait continues on that as well.
Suburban kid wrote:
I haven’t heard of any reliable way to measure bat speed. Maybe Hit f/x can do it (probably can), but that’s not really available for amateur players. Maybe there are alternative ways to do so, but I’ve never heard about it and I’ve read a lot of scouting reports.
I do agree with what you’re saying. It’s always struck me as a comment scouts say to make themselves look smarter, but I don’t buy it. I don’t believe there’s a noticeable enough difference in the sound of the bat off of someone like MIguel Cabrera and an Aramis Ramirez in his prime. If they use some sort of technology to measure then I’m sure there would be, but I don’t believe that the human ears can notice a negligible difference like that. It has to be a small difference.
If I watched enough batting practice I could probably tell the difference in sound between one Cabrera hits and one someone like Barney hits. However, I wouldn’t be able to tell the players apart 100% of the time. I’d guess at best it would be in the 80-90% range. If blindfolded, I’d miss a lot of them. If Cabrera hit it weakly I would assume it was Barney and not everything Cabrera hits is hit hard. Maybe the 80-90% range is even too high and those are two extremes.
If the scout genuinely believes he heard a difference between the top 20 hitting prospects in the draft I’d bet anything it had more to do with how well the ball was hit and other things he picked up visually. He couldn’t do it blindfolded.
Just saw that. Viz is sticking to instructional leagues. Boo.
Also, Baez is at least claiming that he’s worn out from the longest schedule of his career, and that’s why he’s skipping the AFL:
Interesting. I’ve never really heard that excuse for position players before. Starlin Castro played 51 games in 2008. In 2009 he played 127 between A+ and AA. On top of that, he played in 26 games in the AFL.
Even after the 2010 season the Cubs considered having Castro play in the Dominican Winter League.
This is the kind of excuse you hear for pitchers or players who are coming back from injury. It’s very odd. Teams generally like to push their position players and get them used to 160 games.
It seems like the same kind of generic comments that scouts come up with when describing any draft pick. I wonder how much of it is confirmation bias after they watch a prospect crush the ball deep, and then they notice that “the ball sounds different off his bat”.
I generally assume that all players lie about everything all the time. Maybe Baez is worn out, maybe his isn’t. Maybe he’s just telling people what they already want to hear.
In 2005 Jacoby Ellsbury played in 35 games after being drafted. He probably played in about 50 games before that. In 2006 he played in 111 during the regular season and then played in 25 games in the AFL.
I looked at Ellsbury wondering if Thoyer did things differently, but they didn’t with one of their best prospects.
This must have been a personal decision by Baez because obviously the Cubs weren’t afraid to extend him to 160 games or so. They wanted to do that.
Yeah, visually. Watching the guy. Although I’m surprised there apparently isn’t a radar gun type of measuring gizmo for bat speed.
I think it’s fine to notice that a great hitter makes a different sound, and retroactively assign meaning to that, but making predictions off a bat crack is sketch.
Suburban kidQuote Reply
I’d say almost all of it is confirmation bias. I just don’t believe that the best trained scout in the world could notice a difference without watching. In other words, he’s not describing the sound of the bat, but rather how well the ball was hit. The difference in sound between the best players is just too small to notice. Let Josh Vitters and someone like Matt Wieters hit and they wouldn’t get more than 50% of them right without watching (same as a coin flip). Vitters was known as potentially the best bat in the draft and definitely the best high school bat while Wieters was the other potential best bat and the best college bat.
Suburban kid wrote: but making predictions off a bat crack is sketch.
The movie Trouble with the Curve thinks otherwise. If I can’t trust Clint Eastwood, who can I trust?
I got the impression that Parks was talking about seeing Vitters pre-draft, so I don’t think the comparison was against other top 20 prospects as much as it was against a field of high schoolers with bat speeds that for the most part grade between 20 and 40. A 70 bat speed compared to that is going to stand out, and you can probably pretty easily see and hear the difference. That’d be enough to get attention.
Sorry to keep relating this back to golf, but I have more experience with this there than I do with baseball, but you can definitely hear a difference in the way that way guys like Tiger Woods and Bubba Watson hit a driver than someone like a Zach Johnson or a Jim Furyk does, and it’s not just about distance. There’s a perceptible difference in the volume of the sound the club makes, and it lasts a fraction of a second longer. I know personally I’ve seen enough golf where, in person, if you blindfolded me and sat me next to two players — one with average tour quality swing speed and the other being one of the top ten in driving distance on tour — I’m confident I could absolutely tell the difference.
The most helpful thing I can offer from a baseball perspective is that when I saw Baez hit that walkoff in the spring training game against japan, it sounded a whole helluvalot like Tiger Woods hitting a driver. Less metallic, obviously, but the compression sound was very similar.
I don’t doubt there would be a difference between those levels of talent. My doubt is that you could really tell a difference between individuals who were at least similarly talented.
Bat speed is another. I can tell the difference between a Gary Sheffield and a Dioner Navarro, but I have trouble seeing the difference between players like Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee or other players. I trust the scouts more when they say so and so has better bat speed because it’s at least recognizing that it’s a visual observation.
I think I agree with this, and it’s basically the point I was trying to get at. I think it’s definitely possible to differentiate between quality tiers that way. The whole “sound” think might have just been Parks recognizing that Vitters belonged in a tier of elite bat speed, and he’d at that point not seen a hitter with elite bat speed fail.
You know who had loud, violent swings? Daryle Ward. Remember that guy?
I don’t know anything about golf so I’ll take your word here, but there’s a larger difference in talent in what you’re describing than what most baseball scouts do.
All I can really offer to the sound of the bat discussion and personal experience is that when I lived in Mesa, Arizona, I lived next door to where one of the Giants practice facilities. The sound of the bat that I’d hear every day in my apartment was noticeable and the well struck balls even more noticeable. Barry Bonds rarely practiced on this field, but on occasion he’d sneak over there to take BP away from the cameras. Now that sound was different. I exaggerate, but it almost sounded like an explosion from 200 yards away (the distance my apartment was to home plate).
However, the difference between Bonds and the guys who would never make it out of the low minor leagues is huge. We’re talking one of the best hitters of all time against guys you’d could literally combine into a monster hitter and they wouldn’t compare.
If you were lucky enough to catch Bonds taking BP, you’d also notice that he was hitting the ball about 7000 feet further than anyone else. You’d also notice he took more pitches during BP than any player I’ve ever watched. Sometimes there was a very long time in between sounds. It would sound like they were done for the day and them BOOM.
I understand the difference is noticeable when comparing vastly different talent levels, but some of the comments by scouts about bat sound aren’t doing that. “I’ve never heard that sound before” is a lie. If you’ve watched Alfonso Soriano or Barry Bonds take BP, it’s like an explosion.
Then there’s also the fact that batters don’t hit the ball hard all that often. They hit infield flies, soft grounders and little bloops. If you’ve watched 9 batters struggle to make good contact and then ones hits a booming home run, the sound will be completely different and maybe that’s what they’re recognizing. I don’t know.
Those must be vegetarian nachos.
Omar LittleQuote Reply
Since everyone here is a fan:
Omar LittleQuote Reply
Omar LittleQuote Reply
Omar LittleQuote Reply
I’m not sure spouses and umpires count.
Daryle Ward is one of my all-time favorite Cubs, because he was the most underrated player on my favorite Cubs team ever (2007). He was the premier bench bat/spot rightside starter that year.
Man, that 2007 team was so fun
new shit: http://obstructedview.net/minor-leagues/2013-cubs-prospects-in-review-rob-zastryzny.html