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February 2014

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COMMENTS

The Fallen: Josh Vitters Edition

Written by , Posted in General, Minor League

In the long run, the failure of one Cubs prospect most hampered the Cubs ability to rebuild quickly, and may have doomed the Jim Hendry regime as much as any poor free agent signing: Josh Vitters. The third pick in the 2007 Rule 4 Draft, even as a prep star he gained renown for having one of the prettiest swings in baseball. Unfortunately, a combination of an injuries, poor approach at the plate, and a failure to improve defensively at third base leave him as all but a non-prospect at this point.

The Heights: After being drafted with the third pick in the 2007 draft, Vitters performed very well through his first significant stretch in full season ball: the first 70 games of 2009, where he put up a .316/.351/.535 line in the Low A Midwest League.

The Depths: Vitters’ fall was not as precipitous as some, but more a long, slow march towards irrelevance. A part of this was related to injuries. Vitters missed significant time in 2010 and 2013, which delays any prospect’s progress. Vitters also entered a pattern where he struggled in his first run at each new level, before having moderate success in the second run. This, however, is not that uncommon. More significantly, Vitters showed himself to not be equipped to handle third base defensively, limiting him to an outfield corner at this point. Worst, however, Vitters has not shown significant improvement in his approach at the plate. This is the downside to Vitters’ pretty swing. He can make contact with a pitches he should not swing at, at least in the minors.

The worst came with a promotion to the Majors in 2012, where he put up a miserable .395 OPS in just over 100 plate appearances, and then only played in 28 games in Triple A in 2013 due to myriad injuries. On the good news front, he was effective in his limited playing time, posting a strong .295/.380/.511 line, including an 11% walk rate, by far the best of his career.

Best Case Scenario: Still only 24 years old, Vitters still has a bit of time to prove that he can be a productive big leaguer, but he needs to stay healthy and hit now. I’m not a Junior Lake fan, and think that a BABIP regression on Lake’s front will lead to him losing the starting left fielder job early in the season. Best case scenario is that Vitters takes it, shows he can hit in the Majors, and at least becomes an average Major League starter. Not quite what you would be looking for in a third pick in the draft, but it would be considered a success at this point.

Worst Case Scenario: Excluding injuries, the worst case scenario for Vitters is that he fails when given his next shot at the Major League level, firmly establishing his status as one of the biggest draft busts in recent memory.

  • PLCB3

    Do you think if Vitters hits good the first 2 months of the season, you then trade him while his stock is high, or do you hold onto him and hope he doesn’t flop and become a bust? I’m skeptical on him being an everyday MLB player and think he we should unload him.

    • Noah_I

      I think you have to keep playing him. I just don’t think 2 months of good hitting would be enough to raise his trade value. You’d need him to perform well for a full season.

      • Chuck

        Agree. I do not believe he is considered a prospect any more. He is in the Lottery Ticket phase of prospecthood.

    • Joe Aiello

      I don’t understand why people always say things like “Trade him as soon as he shows anything” as if other GM’s have access just to the last week of stats and no film whatsoever. Front offices are not dumb. They know what they’re doing.

      • Jerry in Wisconsin

        Remember we traded Lou Brock after two good months, not saying Vitters is Brock, but sometimes a player figuers it out, and you need to be careful.

      • That, or Lou was another one of Cindy Sandberg’s suitors. Could go either way.

      • That, or Lou was another one of Cindy Sandberg’s suitors. Could go either way.

      • Noah_I

        Brock was actually having his worst season as a Major Leaguer when the Cubs traded him to the Cardinals. Through 52 games in the 1964 season, Brock had put up .251/.300/.340 line. Following the trade, Brock proceeded to put up a .348/.387/.527 over 103 games with the Cardinals.

        The Brock for Broglio trade is much more an example of the following, in my opinion: (1) Try not to trade promising young prospects when their value is at their lowest; and (2) don’t trade those players for a player who just had a career year that is not in line with what he did the prior five years of his career, especially when you’re not in a position to compete right away.

      • Dusty Baylor

        Also, don’t trade for a veteran pitcher who has bone chips in his elbow? Broglio was 60-38 from 1960-1963, with a 21-9 season in 1960 with a 2.74 ERA, 12-9 in 1962 with a 3.00 ERA (ERA+ of 144), and 18-8 in 1663 with a 2.99 ERA (119 ERA+) Who knows what type of player Brock would’ve been had he stayed with the Cubs. Probably Derrick May….lol.

      • PLCB3

        How did we go from 1962 to 1663? I know Cardinals luck is mysterious vs Cubs luck, but I didn’t know It could send time back 300 years.

      • Dusty Baylor

        LMAO!! Cubbery works in mysterious ways…

      • Doc Raker

        Ernie Broglio I was a hell of a ballplayer in 1663, just look at his BABIP, and that wasn’t luck let me tell you.

      • Jerry in Wisconsin

        Well, that may explain the Cardinals Mad Hungarian, He could have been Atilla the Hun cleaned up to play baseball.

      • PLCB3

        I hate Cardinals luck vs Cubs luck. Everything the Cardinals touch turns into gold.

      • AC0000000

        How did we go from 1962 to 1663? I know Cardinals luck is mysterious vs Cubs luck, but I didn’t know It could send time back 300 years.

      • Dusty Baylor

        LMAO!! Cubbery works in mysterious ways…

      • Doc Raker

        Ernie Broglio I was a hell of a ballplayer in 1663, just look at his BABIP, and that wasn’t luck let me tell you.

      • Jerry in Wisconsin

        Well, that may explain the Cardinals Mad Hungarian, He could have been Atilla the Hun cleaned up to play baseball.

      • AC0000000

        I hate Cardinals luck vs Cubs luck. Everything the Cardinals touch turns into gold.

      • Noah_I

        Brock was actually having his worst season as a Major Leaguer when the Cubs traded him to the Cardinals. Through 52 games in the 1964 season, Brock had put up .251/.300/.340 line. Following the trade, Brock proceeded to put up a .348/.387/.527 over 103 games with the Cardinals.

        The Brock for Broglio trade is much more an example of the following, in my opinion: (1) Try not to trade promising young prospects when their value is at their lowest; and (2) don’t trade those players for a player who just had a career year that is not in line with what he did the prior five years of his career, especially when you’re not in a position to compete right away.

      • Doc Raker

        Ernie Borglio had a lot of upside, he was just unlucky as far as the BABIP goes.

      • Doc Raker

        Ernie Borglio had a lot of upside, he was just unlucky as far as the BABIP goes.

      • Bryan

        I know it is cliche, but I really do believe a change in scenery can do wonders for a players. Take Vitters for instance…the Cubs placed high expectation on him simply by drafting him 3rd overall, and the more he struggles, the heavier the weight on his shoulders is. By going somewhere where he is virtually unknown to fans could allow him to relax and do what got him to get drafted in the first place.

      • Bryan

        I know it is cliche, but I really do believe a change in scenery can do wonders for a players. Take Vitters for instance…the Cubs placed high expectation on him simply by drafting him 3rd overall, and the more he struggles, the heavier the weight on his shoulders is. By going somewhere where he is virtually unknown to fans could allow him to relax and do what got him to get drafted in the first place.

  • AC0000000

    Do you think if Vitters hits good the first 2 months of the season, you then trade him while his stock is high, or do you hold onto him and hope he doesn’t flop and become a bust? I’m skeptical on him being an everyday MLB player and think he we should unload him.

    • Joe Aiello

      I don’t understand why people always say things like “Trade him as soon as he shows anything” as if other GM’s have access just to the last week of stats and no film whatsoever. Front offices are not dumb. They know what they’re doing.

  • Chuck

    This is probably the put-up-or-shut-up season for his career. As the author noted, he is still 24 years old even though he seems much older due to him being a top prospect since he was drafted. If he turns things around, he can be a slightly above league-average corner OF/emergency 3B player for a few years then be out of the League because his approach can’t withstand any loss of bat speed as he ages. He may have one of those flash-in-the-pan seasons where he hits out of his mind then regresses.

    I believe his ultimate fate is as a throw-in in an upcoming trade the Cubs make.

    • Noah_I

      Agree. On top of other issues, Vitters will be out of options after this season, so he’ll either have to be on the MLB roster or the Cubs will have to DFA him after this season. There is likely a team that would dream on Vitters enough (Astros, for example) to give him a shot on an active roster on 2015 if he hit waivers.

      • PLCB3

        How come you don’t think he can get something in a trade but someone will take a flier on him as a lotto ticket. In regards to his rights/options, say the Cubs waive him in 2015 and someone claims him off waivers.
        1. Can the Cubs pull him back?
        2. What options does his new team have on sending him to the minors etc.?

      • Noah_I

        I just don’t think he can bring back any value in a trade. The Cubs probably could trade him, but it wouldn’t be for anything impressive after 2 months. Maybe a really fringy prospect or a mid-innings reliever. Someone with the ceiling of a 5th starter would be the most I think the Cubs could get. On a waiver, a team doesn’t have to give up anything for Vitters but a roster spot. While a good team wouldn’t do that, what would a team like the Astros or Marlins, or perhaps even the Twins or White Sox, have to lose by picking him up off waivers and starting him in an outfield corner for half a season?

        The issue with the Cubs, if he isn’t on the active roster in 2015, isn’t that they’d just be waiving him, they’d have to designate him for assignment because he’d be out of options at that point. So, to answer your questions:

        (1) No, you cannot pull back a player you have designated for assignment. It’s an irrevocable waiver. So if a team claims Vitters, he goes to that team. If a team doesn’t claim Vitters, the Cubs can keep him as a minor leaguer.

        (2) A team that claimed Vitters off irrevocable waivers would have to put Vitters on their active roster. He would remain out of options. If they claim Vitters and don’t put him on their active roster, they then have to DFA him themselves. This is why you’d only be likely to see a bad team pick him up.

      • PLCB3

        Is this how the waiver process works for sending anyone to the minors out of options? Because I remember 2 different cases with this. In 2001, we tried sending Miguel Cairo and Gary Matthews Jr down to the minors via waivers and other teams claimed them. But in 2005, we sent Corey Patterson down to the minors via waivers but I read in the papers we would have been able to pull him if he was claimed.

      • Noah_I

        Yes. The report in 2005 must have been incorrect because there is no way Patterson would have been out of options at that point. Patterson had one option used in 2001, and then would have retained 2 options in 2005. When the Cubs sent Patterson back to Iowa in 2005, that was on one of his options.

      • PLCB3

        So now how does the process of minor league options work? How many options does a player have, and when does his clock start? Say Castro for example. He was called up in 2010, and has been with the MLB team since. Does this mean the Cubs still retain options on him. Let’s say we don’t send him down between now and 2018. Would we still have options on him in 2018? The way this process works in confusing me. I remember after 2008 we were out of options on Pie, but he was only on the MLB team in 2007 and 2008, while we still had options on Soto who first played with the MLB team in 2005.

      • Noah_I

        Minor league options become an issue once a player is added to the 40 man roster. A player has 3 minor league options once they are added to the 40 man roster. If the player is added to the active roster at the same time he is added to the 40 man roster, no options are used. Each season a player is on the 40 man roster and sent down to the minor leagues, an option is used. Once all three options are used, the team cannot send the player to the minor leagues without designating him for assignment, which removes the player from both the active and 40 man rosters and places him on irrevocable waivers.

        Castro was placed on the 40 man roster at the same time he was added to the active roster, so he still has three options remaining. The Cubs could send him down to the minors without any repercussion.

        I believe there is a point after which a player’s minor league options disappear, but I do not recall when it happens.

        The issue is not when a player is on the active roster, but how many seasons he is both on the 40 man roster and NOT on the active roster for any portion of the season. So, for Pie, he was placed on the 40 man roster before the 2006 season, and spent the season in the minors, using up an option. In 2007 and 2008, he spent portions of the season in the minors, using up an option each year. So, after 2008, he was out of options.

      • PLCB3

        Thanks for explaining that. That was really useful.

        So now, my next questions: When does a team decide to add the player to the 40 man roster? When they fear losing him to the Rule 5 draft and want to protect him? Is a player subject to Rule 5 draft even if he doesn’t qualify otherwise if he was placed on the 40-man roster one year and then removed the next?

        Do September call-ups have any bearing on this or no? And during the years options are retained, is a team free to send the player back and forth between the majors and the minors? Or does that use an option every time. Like you call a player up and then send him down to the minors 2x during the season, since he spent 2 stints in the minors, does that use 2 options?

      • Noah_I

        A team adds a player to the 40 man roster either because they want to add him to the active roster or because they want to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. I don’t know the answer to the second question, but am unaware of any situation where that has come up. A part of this is just logistics. If a player was at all viewed as valuable enough to be on any team’s 40 man roster, they’d much rather pick him up off waivers when his team DFAs him, where they can stash him on the 40 man if he has options left, than pick him in the Rule 5 draft, where he must remain on the active roster.

        A September call up does not use up an option. Only one option is used up per season. So in the scenario you provided, only one option is used.

      • Noah_I

        A team adds a player to the 40 man roster either because they want to add him to the active roster or because they want to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. I don’t know the answer to the second question, but am unaware of any situation where that has come up. A part of this is just logistics. If a player was at all viewed as valuable enough to be on any team’s 40 man roster, they’d much rather pick him up off waivers when his team DFAs him, where they can stash him on the 40 man if he has options left, than pick him in the Rule 5 draft, where he must remain on the active roster.

        A September call up does not use up an option. Only one option is used up per season. So in the scenario you provided, only one option is used.

      • Doc Raker

        I think you can always pull someone back off of waivers if you wish. The waiver period is 3 days and players are put on waivers and pulled back all the time, more than is reported. At least this was the case prior to the last CBA, maybe it has changed?

      • Noah_I

        It depends on which version of waivers you’re using. I think you’re thinking of the post-trade deadline waivers, in which case you’re correct. That is just a waiver process to allow a team to trade a player, without removing him for the 40 man or active rosters. In this process, if the player passes through waivers, he can be traded after the trade deadline. If another team claims the player, the team that waived him can either: (a) pull him back, as you discussed; (b) try to reach a trade deal with the team that claimed the player; or (c) allow the other team to claim the player outright.

        The waiver process connected to DFAs, which removes a player from both the active and 40 man rosters is an irrevocable waiver, and has been for at least a decade, probably longer.

      • PLCB3

        So if a team wants to send an out of options player to the minors on August 1, how does the rest of the league know that they’re trying to send him down and not standard procedure for a post-July 31 trade.

        By being able to be traded after clearing waivers, do you mean that the player can be traded the way he is able to before waivers? Say a player is claimed and a trade is worked out, what players is the claiming team eligible to send, and can the waiving team include other players? Like that Red Sox-Dodgers trade. Did all teh players involves clear waivers?

        Sorry for asking all these questions, but all of this is confusing me. Maybe we should have a post breaking all this down. In regards to waivers rosters trades etc.

      • Jerry in Wisconsin

        After the trade deadline there are two types of waivers, Revocable Waivers where a team can claim the player back, and Irrevocable Waivers where the team will lose the player. In the Dodgers-Red Sox trade all players did clear waivers.

      • Noah_I

        I just don’t think he can bring back any value in a trade. The Cubs probably could trade him, but it wouldn’t be for anything impressive after 2 months. Maybe a really fringy prospect or a mid-innings reliever. Someone with the ceiling of a 5th starter would be the most I think the Cubs could get. On a waiver, a team doesn’t have to give up anything for Vitters but a roster spot. While a good team wouldn’t do that, what would a team like the Astros or Marlins, or perhaps even the Twins or White Sox, have to lose by picking him up off waivers and starting him in an outfield corner for half a season?

        The issue with the Cubs, if he isn’t on the active roster in 2015, isn’t that they’d just be waiving him, they’d have to designate him for assignment because he’d be out of options at that point. So, to answer your questions:

        (1) No, you cannot pull back a player you have designated for assignment. It’s an irrevocable waiver. So if a team claims Vitters, he goes to that team. If a team doesn’t claim Vitters, the Cubs can keep him as a minor leaguer.

        (2) A team that claimed Vitters off irrevocable waivers would have to put Vitters on their active roster. He would remain out of options. If they claim Vitters and don’t put him on their active roster, they then have to DFA him themselves. This is why you’d only be likely to see a bad team pick him up.

      • AC0000000

        Is this how the waiver process works for sending anyone to the minors out of options? Because I remember 2 different cases with this. In 2001, we tried sending Miguel Cairo and Gary Matthews Jr down to the minors via waivers and other teams claimed them. But in 2005, we sent Corey Patterson down to the minors via waivers but I read in the papers we would have been able to pull him if he was claimed.

      • Doc Raker

        I think you can always pull someone back off of waivers if you wish. The waiver period is 3 days and players are put on waivers and pulled back all the time, more than is reported. At least this was the case prior to the last CBA, maybe it has changed?

      • Noah_I

        It depends on which version of waivers you’re using. I think you’re thinking of the post-trade deadline waivers, in which case you’re correct. That is just a waiver process to allow a team to trade a player, without removing him for the 40 man or active rosters. In this process, if the player passes through waivers, he can be traded after the trade deadline. If another team claims the player, the team that waived him can either: (a) pull him back, as you discussed; (b) try to reach a trade deal with the team that claimed the player; or (c) allow the other team to claim the player outright.

        The waiver process connected to DFAs, which removes a player from both the active and 40 man rosters is an irrevocable waiver, and has been for at least a decade, probably longer.

      • AC0000000

        So if a team wants to send an out of options player to the minors on August 1, how does the rest of the league know that they’re trying to send him down and not standard procedure for a post-July 31 trade.

        By being able to be traded after clearing waivers, do you mean that the player can be traded the way he is able to before waivers? Say a player is claimed and a trade is worked out, what players is the claiming team eligible to send, and can the waiving team include other players? Like that Red Sox-Dodgers trade. Did all teh players involves clear waivers?

        Sorry for asking all these questions, but all of this is confusing me. Maybe we should have a post breaking all this down. In regards to waivers rosters trades etc.

  • Bryan

    I’ll admit that when the Cubs drafted Vitters, I thought he was going to be a perennial all-star, based solely on what I read about him (I was also pretty high on Ryan Harvey…remember him?) The MLB draft is just crazy that way. I’m sure there are stats out there, but I wonder how many top 10 draft picks are busts each year in the MLB compared to the NFL or NBA. Just seems there is a JaMarcus Russell or Kwame Brown every couple years for each MLB team.

    • Noah_I

      Busts high in the draft are more common in baseball because you’re drafting someone who is further away from competing in the league you are, in the long run, drafting him to play in. With high school players, you’re typically drafting someone a minimum of 3 years before they will be ready for the Majors, and that is just for the very best prospects. Beyond the first round, and arguably beyond the top ten picks or so, you’re drafting a high school player to be ready in 5ish years. For college players you still expect at least a year of time in the minors, and for many players you expect 3 or 4 years in the minors.

      In the NFL and NBA you’re drafting a player that is supposed to be ready to play at the highest levels right away. You’ve also almost universally seen players perform against high levels of college talent, whereas in baseball the quality of the college leagues varies greatly, much less the competition someone faces in different areas and leagues in high school ball.

      So there’s just a lot more projection that’s necessary. Using Vitters, for example, you just can’t tell based upon seeing a guy face pitchers who largely can’t touch 90 and have high school level breaking pitches if he’s going to have plate discipline against professional talent. That’s why there are so many more misses in baseball.

      I also think in football and basketball just having the size/speed/strength combo more readily translates to success. Those are things that are measurable. It’s much more difficult to measure how well a player can hit a MLB breaking ball when they are 18 or 21 and haven’t seen one before.

      • PLCB3

        I think also the difference is in the NFL/NBA, you’re going straight to the pros, while in MLB you’re not, and each league you’re making adjustments, even in organizations that have the same approaches to the game at all levels. HS/College to minors to MLB are all different, whereas in football and basketball, you only have to adjust from college to pro.
        As for Kwame Brown being a bust, he went straight from high school to the NBA. Some college would have helped his NBA game.

      • Bryan

        Good points! Also, pure athleticism can get you much farther in other sports as opposed to baseball.

      • PLCB3

        Yup. LeBron and Shaq have the perfect bodies for basketball with their power and size. If you could combine Kobe or Jordan’s work ethic with Shaq or LeBron’s body, you would have the most dominant player ever IMO.

      • PLCB3

        Also, I am aware I said Kwame was a bust because he didn’t play in college, and I am Kobe and LeBron didn’t go to college, but I am in favor of the rule that you must be 1 year out of HS. First off, if a player is ready for the NBA after 1 year, go pro. If he isn’t, then stay. They have 3 more years to work on their game. Also, no rule says that they HAVE to do their 1 year in college. As Brandon Jennings did, you can play overseas.

  • Tomas Checkosky

    Kevin Orie and Gary Scott are praying for Vitters to continue to degrade so they can be absolved/forgotten of their failed hype…

    • Noah_I

      I’d say the hype for Orie and Scott was less fair, though. Orie was the 29th pick in the draft, and Scott was a second rounder. It’s one thing when then 29th pick in the draft fails in the Majors. It’s another thing when the 3rd pick in the draft barely makes it to the Majors at all.

      • Tomas Checkosky

        True Noah, but in those days before the heavy use of the internet, we had the Chicago Cubs Report and Vineline pumping these guys up along with the immortal Ty Griffin, Earl Cunningham and Jesse Hollins…

      • Noah_I

        Definitely. There was no way for someone like me to obtain significant information on these prospects at this time. So we just had to rely on whomever local media was hyping.

      • Bryan

        Get this man a Lizzie for an Earl Cunningham reference!!!

      • Dusty Baylor

        Earl Cunningham…Pfft..He was no Carlos Lezcano…or Brian Rosinski

      • Chuck

        My personal epiphany was when I learned the difference between the Cub’s top prospect and a top prospect. This is why I feel much better about the current crop of Cubs prospects. They would be top prospects in about any system.

    • Noah_I

      I’d say the hype for Orie and Scott was less fair, though. Orie was the 29th pick in the draft, and Scott was a second rounder. It’s one thing when then 29th pick in the draft fails in the Majors. It’s another thing when the 3rd pick in the draft barely makes it to the Majors at all.

      • Tomas Checkosky

        True Noah, but in those days before the heavy use of the internet, we had the Chicago Cubs Report and Vineline pumping these guys up along with the immortal Ty Griffin, Earl Cunningham and Jesse Hollins…

      • Dusty Baylor

        Earl Cunningham…Pfft..He was no Carlos Lezcano…or Brian Rosinski

  • Buddy

    I drank the Vitters Kool-Aid as well. Wrong again. Reason number 2,417 why projecting prospects is tough work.

  • Buddy

    I drank the Vitters Kool-Aid as well. Wrong again. Reason number 2,417 why projecting prospects is tough work.