Former first-round pick Josh Vitters is surging down in Triple-A Iowa and could get a chance to take over third base for the Chicago Cubs before the 2012 season wraps.
Vitters, who will be 23 in August, is hitting .298 with 13 home runs, 44 RBI and a .350 OBP. He has an .860 OPS, one of his career-best, and is showing off his true talents in his first go-around at Triple-A.
He finished June hitting .324 with six home runs, a month after hitting .286 with seven home runs. He has made adjustments and settled down, striking out less and walking more from May to June. Given the Cubs' current situation, Vitters should absolutely be up in Chicago come September, if not sooner.
While Luis Valbuena is an exciting new option in the infield, especially after offseason acquisition Ian Stewart hit a disappointing .201 with five home runs before getting hurt, Valbuena is versatile and can play second, third, shortstop and left field.
Darwin Barney, 26, is in a very similar situation as Valbuena. They are both playing for a starting position and could lose playing time to make room for emerging young prospects.
If Josh Vitters continues to play well, the Cubs will absolutely have to call him up. It is getting to be that time where these prospects on under-performing teams get a chance to face big-league pitching and see if they have what it takes to play at the next level.
And with Ian Stewart likely out for the rest of 2012, he becomes a non-tender candidate this offseason, especially because he will likely earn as much as $2.2 million in arbitration. If Vitters plays well and appears comfortable, or at least gaining confidence, it would make the Cubs' decision easy with regards to Stewart.
The Cubs do not have too many prospects that will be getting the call-up, but they have a few and Vitters is certainly one of them. But the Cubs would make a mistake by waiting to call up Vitters to start the 2013 season or waiting until mid-2013.
Pressure from Chicago has made poor performances from past top prospects look even worse than they really were. Fans are still bitter about Corey Patterson and Felix Pie, and the name Mark Prior makes people cringe.
Giving Vitters a taste at the end of the season can be misleading statistics-wise, but it would give him a chance to taste big-league pitching and prepare for the 2013 season with winning the third-base position as his main goal.
Vitters would undoubtedly take over at third base when he is summoned, forcing Valbuena to the bench or back to Triple-A. However, if Barney continues to under-perform, it is possible he could be relegated to the bench with Valbuena moving over to second base.
Valbuena already has as many home runs as Barney in 200 fewer at-bats and 10 fewer RBI in that same span. Barney is very similar to Ryan Theriot, if you haven't already noticed. He got a late start as a major leaguer, and while he is well-liked and can make good plays in the field, he has little to no production at the plate.
There is very little attention on Vitters right now. He is the forgotten prospect, someone that fans who followed him back in 2007 and 2008 have all but written off.
Anthony Rizzo is getting the majority of the spotlight with the rest falling on Jorge Soler, giving guys on the Cubs' radar time to develop without Cubs fans becoming impatient.
Getting Vitters up to Chicago gives the Cubs another chance to get Cubs fans excited about the future.
This will certainly be one of the Cubs' worst seasons in history, and if they don't intend on lowering ticket prices dramatically, they better have players like Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro who offer hope for the future.
Or else Cubs fans may be even less inclined to show up to the ballpark.
Vitters is one of those players, and 2012 should be his first opportunity to showcase his much-hyped talent.