Cubs taking it slow with Vitters' bat

Most people would agree that a .118 batting average is sub-par, even for a sample size of only 51 at-bats. The Cubs don't see it that way at all when it comes to Josh Vitters, their 2007 first-round draft pick.

Vitters, age 17 at the time, became the third overall selection in the First-Year Player Draft when Chicago made him their top choice last June, and he came to the Cubs with plenty of high accolades.

He was named the 2007 Gatorade Player of the Year in California after batting .390 with nine home runs and 29 RBI in 24 games for Cypress High School in his final prep season. Additionally, Vitters was named the top prep hitter in the country by Baseball America and was discovered to have 20-10 vision after visiting with world-renowned sports optometrist Dr. Greg Harrison in California.

Scouts raved about his ability to hit for both average and power.

But for all of the hype and glory, Vitters collected just two hits in 30 at-bats upon beginning his debut professional season in the Arizona League with the Mesa Cubs. He appeared in seven games with Mesa and then went to Class Low-A Boise, where he was 4-for-21. Combined, he struck out 14 times and reached base nine times in 55 plate appearances for a .164 on-base percentage in 14 games.

The Cubs believe those numbers are a bit deceptive, if not altogether un-concerning. Asked if it would be fair to say that Vitters had a rough go of things in his first stint of professional ball, Cubs Vice President of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita said:

"Rough go? He signed and the next day he was playing the game. It's unfair to say he had a rough go. I wouldn't word it that way at all. He was just getting his feet wet."

The Cubs noted that when Vitters put the ball in play last season, he made many tough outs – those of the hard-hit, line drive variety. Moreover, Cubs Minor League Hitting Coordinator Dave Keller remarked upon seeing Vitters extensively for the first time in the club's Instructional League that he was ahead of many hitters his age.

"He's got great hands and a great idea of the strike zone for a young player," Keller said of Vitters. "That was one of the things that impressed me the most. He didn't chase out of the strike zone and most young kids after they sign, they'll chase high fastballs until the cows come home. Then, they'll start chasing all those breaking balls in the dirt. He was very good about those two pitches and he didn't chase."

Keller did say the Cubs have had to "backtrack a little" with Vitters' approach, though. He said that because of Vitters' exceptional hands and bat speed, he has the ability to pull a pitch anytime he wants, but that that's not always a good thing.

"That's not what it's all about," Keller said. "We kind of have to teach him to backtrack a little bit to help him understand a little more about his swing instead of just being quick and going after the pitch. His hands are different and they're like Tyler Colvin's hands; they're very quick. He has the ability to pull without even trying.

"Sometimes, that's not a real good thing for a right-handed hitter."

This spring, citing an influx of third basemen throughout the system and not wanting to rush Vitters' bat, the Cubs are taking it slow by electing to keep him in Extended Spring Training rather than assign him to a Low-A full-season level such as Peoria.

"Because we're backed up in the organization and we have some depth that we hadn't had in the past, we're going to make sure that when he hits the ground, he's ready to go," said Fleita. "For now, the plan is for him to start here in Extended."

Fleita said: "What we see out of him right now is a hell of a kid that has a chance to be a hell of a ballplayer on down the road." There's no need to rush that."

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