The problem for most young hitters is swinging and missing too much. That isn't an issue for Tennessee's Josh Vitters
The third overall pick in the 2007 Draft uses his outstanding hand-eye coordination to put the ball in play with regularity. But sometimes the Chicago Cubs prospect would be better off keeping the bat on his shoulder.
"When you know you can hit a pitch, it's hard not to swing at it," Vitters said. "But I need to wait until I get a pitch I can drive. That's something I've been working on, and I think I'm making progress."
The proof is there for all to see. Vitters has batted .340 in the first 14 games of August, including a nine-game hitting streak in which he went 14-for-35 with 10 RBIs.
A 21-year-old until Aug. 27, the right-handed hitter is batting .284 with 24 doubles, two triples, 12 homers and 65 RBIs this season. He's drawn just 15 walks, though, to go with 47 strikeouts in 384 at-bats. It may not be the breakout season that Vitters and the Cubs had hoped for, but there are plenty of positive signs.
"I think it's been a good season," said Vitters, rated as the Cubs' No. 5 prospect by MLB.com. "We have a good team, and we've won a lot of games. I'm having fun and getting better, which is what you want to do."
Vitters' defense, even more than his hitting, is still a work in progress. He has shown he can play first base as well as third, but he has committed 22 errors overall.
"It's been nice to get a little change of scenery," Vitters said of his time at first. "But I want to play third base in the big leagues. That's what I'm working at."
Since he signed a bonus deal worth $3.2 million with the Cubs, it has always been Vitters' bat that was considered his ticket to Chicago. The Cubs liked Vitters so much that they took him over other high school hitters like Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Mike Stanton. Those three, of course, are already in the Majors.
Vitters' progress was hampered by a broken hand that ended his season early a year ago with Tennessee. He had gotten off to a good start with the Smokies in 2010 after a quick promotion from the Florida State League but then slumped before being hit by a pitch.
After returning to play in the Arizona Fall League, Vitters hoped for a fast start back at Tennessee this season. But it was some of his teammates who started hot as the Smokies won the first-half title in the North Division.
For Vitters, it has been a slow and steady climb with a big final few weeks hopefully ahead.
"I see a lot of real good things with Josh," Smokies manager Brian Harper told the Knoxville News Sentinel after Vitters picked up a walk-off hit against Jacksonville on Thursday. "The kid works hard and he's making adjustments. I'm just real happy for him. I see a huge difference with him at the plate from April until now."
Vitters said in Spring Training with the Cubs that he hoped to be in Chicago before the end of the season. Is he still thinking like that?
"Absolutely," he said.
Before a possible September callup, though, Vitters is concentrating on a strong finish to the Southern League season and helping the Smokies win both halves in the North Division. If they do, he will likely be a big part of it.
Barons on move: Birmingham will move to the North Division next season when Pensacola joins the Southern League, replacing Carolina. The Barons had been in the South since the SL went to a North and South Division format in 2006. Birmingham won the first-half title in the South this season but is in last place in the second half.
Shortstop switch: Montgomery shortstop Tim Beckham, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 Draft, was promoted to Triple-A, but the Biscuits received Hak-Ju Lee from Class A Advanced Charlotte to replace him. Lee, ranked as Tampa Bay's No. 3 prospect by MLB.com, hit .317 and stole 28 bases in the Florida State League. Beckham had a .275 average with 57 RBIs and 15 steals for the Biscuits.
Record tied: Ernesto Mejia matched the Mississippi home run record when he belted his 19th of the season Friday at Mobile. Matt Esquivel hit 19 homers for the M-Braves in 2007. Mejia is batting .294 with 29 doubles and 75 RBIs.