The 2012 season has been bittersweet for fans of the Chicago Cubs. The team has struggled on the field while making progress in the stated rebuilding plan. Theo Epstein and company have spent big money on international talent, stockpiled pitching in the June draft, and aggressively promoted minor-league prospects.
Former first-round draft pick Josh Vitters has been the beneficiary of the Cubs' focus on player development.
Vitters went from disappointing former first-round pick to budding slugger in the first four months of the minor-league season. Vitters posted modest power numbers as a 21-year-old for Double-A Tennessee in 2011. In 129 games with Tennessee, Vitters had hit 14 home runs with a .322 on-base percentage and a .770 OPS. Those stats were respectable, but not what was expected of a prospect as highly touted as Vitters.
The biggest problem for Vitters has been plate discipline. He drew just 22 walks in 449 at-bats in 2011. Sadly, that represented a career high. Vitters made modest strides at Triple-A Iowa this season, raising his walk total to 30 in 415 at-bats. He also greatly improved his power numbers, posting career highs in doubles (32) and slugging percentage (.513). A new-found power stroke coupled with the Cubs' ongoing struggles at the hot corner earned Vitters a call-up to the big leagues in early August.
Vitters has received a rude awakening in his brief time in the big leagues. In 26 games with the Cubs, the rookie has just eight hits in 78 at-bats. Vitters' troubles with plate discipline have resulted in a staggering 27 strikeouts, compared to just four walks. The strikeouts are out of character for Vitters as he never struck out more than 77 times in a minor-league season. Given Vitters' early struggles, it's clear that he needs additional minor-league seasoning before taking over full-time duties at third base in Chicago. Manager Dale Sveum has started the struggling Vitters sparingly over the past few weeks. Fans of the Cubs should remember that Vitters is still just 22 years old. He's come a long way in the past year and could have a bright future in Chicago, despite a rough first month in the majors.
*Information gathered from http://www.baseball-reference.com.