Is Josh Vitters the Next Jeff Baker?

When the Cubs selected Josh Vitters with the third overall pick in 2007, he reportedly had the best swing in the draft and was thought to be the top high school bat with an excellent combination of bat speed and power. Scouts thought so much of Vitters at the time that he was receiving 70 grades on his future power potential and hitting ability. The only question was about his defense at third base. But other than that, all signs pointed to him eventually taking over for Aramis Ramirez.

Josh Vitters struggled staying on the field early in his professional career. Nagging injuries and a broken left hand slowed his development to the point he played 100 or more games in a single season two times in his first four full years of pro ball. Vitters has had 500 plate appearances in a single season one time. He topped 480 plate appearances twice and in a third season, Vitters went to the plate 452 times before finishing the year with the big league club.

The Rockies selected Jeff Baker in the fourth round of the 2002 draft. Signability concerns and questions about him being able to hit with a wood bat dropped Baker to the fourth round. The Rockies still gave him a $2 million signing bonus. At the time he was drafted, scouts saw legitimate power and the ability to drive the ball to the opposite field.

Jeff Baker’s development was slowed by wrist and thumb injuries over the first three years of his pro career. Baker did not play in at least 100 games until 2006, the same season he topped 500 plate appearances for the first time. Like Vitters, Baker was drafted as a third baseman and did not play a different position in the minors until his fourth year of pro ball.

Josh Vitters’ big season came in 2012 with the Iowa Cubs before he received his call-up to the Show. Josh Vitters put together a .304/.356/.513 slash line in 110 games (452 PA) in the PCL. The 22-year old Vitters hit 32 doubles, two triples, 17 home runs, walked a career-high 30 times and posted a .869 OPS. Vitters played 95 games at third base and nine games at first base. The Cubs started moving Vitters around the diamond due to his lack of improvement at third base the season before last (2011). Vitters played 32 games at first base at Double-A Tennessee then saw action in the outfield during his time in the AFL (2011).

The Cubs’ called Josh Vitters up to the big leagues in August of last year where he hit .121/.193/.202 with two doubles, two home runs and a .395 OPS in 36 games (109 PA)

A finally healthy Jeff Baker played in 128 games (538 PA) for Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2006. The 25-year old Baker hit .305/.369/.508 with 30 doubles, four triples, 20 home runs and a .877 OPS in the PCL. Baker spent a majority of his 2006 season in right field (120 games) with an up and coming third baseman in the Rockies system on his heals at Double-A Tulsa. Baker received a cup of coffee with the Rockies the year before. In 12 games (43 PA) for the 2005 Rockies, Baker managed a .211/.301/.395 line with four doubles, one home run and a .697 OPS. The Rockies called Baker up again in 2006 and he responded with a .368/.379/.825 line with seven doubles, two triples, five home runs and a 1.204 OPS in 18 games (58 PA).

Josh Vitters has played in only 33 games this season due to more nagging injuries and three trips to the disabled list. Vitters was hitting .295/.380/.511 with four doubles, five home runs and a .891 OPS before hurting his hamstring in July and landing on the DL. Vitters returned briefly from the DL, hit a home run, re-injured his hamstring and could be looking at another stint on the DL.

The additions of Kris Bryant and Mike Olt have clouded Vitters’ future with the organization even more than before. Bryant has gotten off to a fast start and could be at Wrigley in the near future if he continues to develop the way he has since signing his first professional contract. Olt is a much better defender than Vitters, and put up a monster season at the Double-A level a year ago (.288/.398/.579/.977, 17 doubles and 28 home runs). Olt has really struggled this season while dealing with concussion symptoms after getting hit in the head during winter ball last off-season. The Cubs had Vitters working in the outfield and at first base after trading for Olt.

Jeff Baker found himself in a similar position before the Cubs traded for him in July of 2009. Baker started learning different positions to increase his versatility to the Rockies and other teams if necessary. Baker saw the handwriting on the wall that he would have to be able to play as many positions as he could in order to stay in the big leagues with the amount of talent coming up in the Rockies’ system.

Jim Hendry traded now Tigers’ reliever Al Alburquerque for Baker and the utility player was labeled as the poor man’s Mark DeRosa. Baker played all four positions in the infield, and the corner outfield spots during his time with the Cubs while mashing left handed pitching. Baker has a career .301/.353/.526 slash line against southpaws with a .879 OPS.

Baker’s ability to hit left-handed pitching showed up during his minor league career. Baker hit .303/.370/.576 against lefties in 2005 and .347/.419/.636 against southpaws in 2006.

Like Jeff Baker, Josh Vitters has hit extremely well against left handed pitching. Vitters put up a .270/.337/.483 slash line with a .820 OPS against lefties in 2010 while hitting only .238/.302/.374 versus right handers. And his numbers against left handers got better in 2011 (.299/.338/.465) and 2012 (.276/.320/.519) while moving up the system. In limited action this year, Vitters is hitting .343/.378/.600 with three doubles and two home runs against lefties and .227/.363/.394 with two doubles and three home runs against right handed pitching.

Josh Vitters still has plenty of time to develop into a big league regular, either with the Cubs or with another organization. But his career path, and production, is very similar to Jeff Baker.

Sometimes players do not end up meeting the expectations given to them on the day they are drafted. And sometimes players surpass their projections such is the game of baseball.

While this might be seen as a knock on Josh Vitters, it is not meant that way at all. Jeff Baker has carved out a very good career for himself and Vitters would be fortunate to have such a career. But maybe the expectations on Josh Vitters should be adjusted accordingly and allow him to become a successful big leaguer that just helps a team win ballgames.

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  • http://theboardridersuite.wordpress.com/ Theboardrider

    Man Vitters is still young, sometimes I forget. I really like this comparison Neil and think it’s an astute piece. If Vitters could stay healthy two straight seasons who knows where he may be? But such is the life of a ballplayer. I still pull for him. Who knows? But with Bryant and Olt 3rd base looks less likely. I look forward to Olt as well with a season removed from his concussions, hooefully he will return to form. With his defense if r can hit he could look like Scott Rolen in a few years.

    And Bryant, well he just looks special. I hope Olt will hit so Bryant can go to left field and be the next Ryan Braun (sans PED’s).

    • TheWrongGuy

      I still root for Vitters as well, there’s a lot of untapped potential there IMO.
      I am hoping to see this for next season…
      C Castillo/Navarro
      1b Rizzo/Vitters
      2b Barney to be replaced mid-season by Baez
      SS Castro
      3b Olt/Vitters/Valbuena
      LF Lake/Sweeney/Bogusevic/Vitters/Olt
      CF Lake/Sweeney
      RF Shierholtz/Vitters/Olt

      Mostly a platoon line-up which Sveum seems to like to do a lot.

  • Ripsnorter1

    Vitters has a mere 88 AB this year. What a wasted year for him!
    .295 BA….591 slug in that small sample size. What’s shocking for
    him is 11 BB and 19 K in that stat line as well. He must have been
    trying to work more walks and drive the ball more (5 HR).

    Yeah, I’d agree that he isn’t the 3B of the future.

  • Ripsnorter1

    Brett Jackson: another sad story. I fear he may be done as a
    future Cub. And I’m not talking just “not the CF of the future” talk;
    I am speaking of “not a ML player in any capacity, not even a utility player.”
    He’s 25 now, and the prospect label is gone.

    Here’s his AAA line, before he was sent down
    to AA:
    .223 BA….367 slug….300 OBP.
    His walks were down (21). His K’s were up (77 in 215 AB).
    His power was down. BA down. And yes, he was injured.

    Here’s his AA stats: he’s strictly a singles hitter in the
    47 AB:
    .191 BA
    .191 slug
    1 SB
    2 CS
    17 K
    7 BB

    Hopefully 2014 will be much, much better. But it’s getting late.

    • 07GreyDigger

      Woah! Did I hear some empathy in a post of yours about Brett Jackson? I may have misjudged you.

      • Ripsnorter1

        Of course. He’s a good looking kid. If he could make regular
        contact, he’d be a ML player. Great glove.

        I don’t wish him bad.

        • 07GreyDigger

          I saw him play at Iowa last year and I’m no scout or anything, but generally, a player should be good in the majors, (or next level) if they can dominate that competition.

          In a doubleheader, Rizzo dominated, Vitters showed flashes and Jackson looked out of his league, (striking out twice with the bases loaded). It’s sad to see when heralded guys can’t do it. I think Jackson has the abilities to make the show, but more likely as a 4th OF.

          • cubtex

            I have seen BJax play on several occasions since I live pretty close to Round Rock and I try and make a couple of Iowa/Round Rock games per year. I never liked BJax’s swing. It is a long swing and he doesn’t shorten it with 2 strikes. With his speed and plus defensive ability…you want a guy that puts the bat on the ball. I don’t think I ever watched him play where he didn’t K at least one time in that particular game.

  • Ripsnorter1

    Here’s a question: will Prince Fielder be the next Frank Thomas?

    Frank Thomas was having a Hall of Fame career…until he and his wife divorced.

    Now Cecil Fielder is divorcing his wife of 8 years, and he’s having an off year.
    .262 BA
    .435 slugging.

    David DeJesus is close! .255 BA and .412 slugg.
    Of course, DeJesus is a one way player…..but still…..

    • cubtex

      I would take that off year production for our 1st baseman any day. He has 83 RBI.
      With RISP (my favorite stat:)

      159 PA 61 RBI .267 avg. Not great but not terrible. With Miggy clearing the bases ahead of him so much they will have 2 players with over 100 RBI on the season. Not too shabby.

      • TheWrongGuy

        I agree but he also has people in his line-up ahead and behind him that will hit and get on base OUR first baseman doesn’t.

        • cubtex

          Don’t we have the one and only David DeJesus leading off for this club? :)))

          • TheWrongGuy

            Yes and I stand by my post. David Dejesus slows the game down soo much 2 hours between pitches just to get into the box then another 1 hour to say OK I am ready to hit now. When he is playing and EJax are pitching. I normally turn off the game and go for a nap.

          • cubtex

            hahaha. You are right about that. When EJax gets runners on base…..it is brutal! I said this before, I would hate to be playing infield when Edwin Jackson is pitching!

          • paulcatanese

            I would guess you haven’t watched Pena when he was with the Cubs.

          • TheWrongGuy

            When C. Pena was a CUB I was still active duty. I am retired now. I get more free time. I did see when they had signed him that he walked a lot, and swung and missed a lot. Maybe its a good thing I didn’t see him.

          • paulcatanese

            Drove me nuts, good thing I taped the games, just fast forwarded thru every bat of his.
            Out of the box on every pitch.

    • jtrain23

      The only flaw in your logic I see was that Frank Thomas did have a Hall Of Fame career, period. His career average is over .300. He has 521 HR and over 1700 RBI. He’s a slugger with nearly 2,500 hits as well as 300 more walks than strikeouts. He was a 2 time MVP, as well.
      I get what you mean, and Hurt’s numbers did decline as his career went on and he did have some off the field issues. IMO, the main difference is that Prince Fielder has never and will never be as good as Frank Thomas, and this is coming from a Cubs fan.

      • Ripsnorter1

        I agree with your post.

  • 07GreyDigger

    Great job Neil. Unfortunately being a good hitter isn’t enough to make the majors these days, but there are plenty of first round picks that have had successful careers as platoon players and bench players. The Cubs need a bench bat like Vitters who can be productive and you can live with for a few days. It’s certainly not Ransom, Valbuena or Gillespie. Yeesh.

    • Ripsnorter1

      Vitter hasn’t proved he can hit ML pitching. I hope he can, but
      let’s see the proof in the pudding.

      • cubtex

        He has had an ability to make contact at an extremely high rate in the minors. He has very quick hands and he does have the ability. I think a Jeff Baker comparison is pretty close. You can definately use a guy like that on a mlb roster.

        • Ripsnorter1

          You are probably correct. Yet he hit .121 in MLB….with .202 slug.
          He’s not proven anything yet.

          • cubtex

            Agreed…but did he get the same opportunity that Junior Lake is getting now? Or BJax did last year? He never got regular playing time last year after he was called up.

      • 07GreyDigger

        He needs to stay on the field so they can give him a shot. They could have brought him a couple of times already.

  • cubtex

    42 Games left in the season. If they go 17-25 the rest of the way (which I think might be the best case scenario)…They will lose 93 games. To lose 100 games this year….they will have to go 10-32. That would be pretty hard to do.

    • 07GreyDigger

      Oh ye of little faith.

      • cubtex

        Do you think they will do better?

        • 07GreyDigger

          I meant more to the 100 losses. I don’t think they’ll get there, but it’ll be close!

          • cubtex

            I think 93 to 96 losses seems about right. I don’t think it will be that close.

    • texcubnut

      They won’t lose 100 games. Again. Over that hump. :)

      • cubtex

        Maybe….but barely over that hump :) This season hasn’t been a hell of a lot better than last. Maybe a 5 to 7 game improvement???

        • texcubnut

          Agreed. But it IS an improvement and although I believe more could have been done, we are heading in the right direction. Of course, the argument would be that they could not have gotten worse than last year.

          • cubtex

            Unless they shock me with a blockbuster trade or 2, What leads you to believe that next year will be any better than this?

          • cubtex

            I agree they are heading in the right direction(although it is about as slow as it can get) IF they don’t sign anybody who can hit 4th(and Neil and others believe they won’t sign an outfielder) this team will be terrible offensively again. The pitching will be worse also since they will not have Garza. This will be another 90 plus loss team next year as the roster stands right now. Working in an Olt next year(he will have growing pains) Having an Arrieta in the rotation to go along with Shark,EJax,Wood and possibly Scott Baker if they resign him. This rotation will not be as strong

          • texcubnut

            I don’t know exactly what they will do, but, one thing they won’t do is ‘nothing’. They will make moves. It may be through trades; ( D. Price or G. Stanton) or it may be through free agency (Saltalamachia, Ellsbury) or it may be in-house ( Sczur, Vizcaino, Bryant, Hendricks), I don’t know what they will do. I can’t ‘prove’ improvement. I just look at what I’ve seen transpire in the last twenty months ( and that’s all the time this regime has had so far and , for the most part, I like what I’ve seen. Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not a management butt-boy, I don’t drink the blue stuff and I don’t use alot of stats like WAR, etc. I’m an old guy ( I haven’t started talking to empty chairs….yet) so being old school I use the eye test and maybe my eyes are getting weak but I like our overall direction. I am in complete agreement with you, Tex, about being able to rebuild our farm system and being more competitive at the Major League level. Onward and upward!!

          • Ripsnorter1

            Olt? Nope. He can’t hit AA or AAA pitching.

            Baker? Probably won’t resign with the Cubs.
            Cubs will want him, but he’ll want to go elsewhere so he won’t
            get dealt at the deadline.

            Arrieta will probably be exactly what he’s been throughout his
            64 game MLB career: 5.39 ERA.

            100 losses could happen in 2014.

          • cubtex

            I don’t know again about 100 losses….but I don’t see how anyone in their right mind can think this team will be anywhere close to .500 unless major changes are made over the offseason. I am not talking about a Scott Hairston, Navarro,Feldman.

          • 07GreyDigger

            You and I both know that Olt will be better than Valbuena and co at third. Your middle infielders are having terrible seasons, you have to expect improvement from them (only way but up!). I think they will sign a corner OF, maybe a Corey Hart (seems like their MO) and their pitching has made good strides this year, so they hopefully we’ll be better. They may not be .500 good, but losing 85 games is improvement isn’t it?

          • cubtex

            They need to improve the offense somehow next year by getting some players outside the organization. Hopefully Olt bounces back from this dreadful year. Rizzo is still not a #3 hitter. They have to address the bullpen. IF they want to be even close to .500 they have to make some significant moves.

          • Ripsnorter1

            They’ll certainly be better. Look at this lineup:

            Brett Jackson, CF……093 BA…
            Vitters, 3B………………088 BA….
            Rizzo. 1B……………….239 BA
            DeJesus, LF…………..242 BA
            Lake, CF………………..250 BA
            Gillespie. RF…………..118 BA
            Castillo, C……………….272 BA
            Castro. SS………………240 BA

          • cubtex

            wow. how did you not get sick typing those averages? :)

        • paulcatanese

          Don’t forget their patsies are in town, easy three game sweep
          over the Cards:)

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