Wrigley Field fans got their first glimpse of top draft pick Josh Vitters in a Cub uniform on Friday -- but only the earliest arrivals before the game with the Cardinals got to see him, and they probably didn’t even realize what they were looking at. Vitters, the 17-year-old third baseman chosen third overall by the Cubs in the June draft out of Cypress, California, was still in town after signing his contract earlier this week and took batting practice with the scrubeenies in the Cubs’ last group Friday morning just as the gates were opening. Appropriately enough, Vitters wore uniform No. 1, with shoes borrowed from Cliff Floyd and a leftover black bat from Rob Bowen. He displayed a loose, fluid, almost slappy swing, but as advertised by scouts -- Baseball America proclaimed him the best pure hitter in the draft and the high school player closest to being ready for the majors -- the ball leapt off his bat with line-drive power. As one might expect with a teenager taking his first batting practice in a big league park, he didn’t let many pitches go by, at one point taking an eye-high fastball and lashing it into left field.
“The kid has a good swing, doesn’t he?” said manager Lou Piniella, who also made a point of shaking Vitters’s hand between turns in the cage and saying, “Good to have you here.” Vitters won’t be here long, however. He’s booked to join the Cubs’ rookie league team in Mesa, Arizona, next week, in time for his 18th birthday, with a brief boost to Boise, Idaho, expected before the end of the short-season Class A Northwest League campaign. After that, he might put in a month in the Arizona Instructional League this fall.
Although listed at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, Vitters looked lean and rangy, almost skinny, not like a power-hitting third baseman, but that’s where the alchemy of baseball scouting comes in. It’s expected that, with a fluid swing with good timing and strong wrists, Vitters will develop even more power as he fills out. For now, he said he felt welcomed in the Cubs’ clubhouse, even with his $3.2 million deal, but how could anyone take offense to that chump change on a day Carlos Zambrano was signing a five-year, $91.5 million contract? “They all were great to me,” Vitters said afterward, somewhat bashfully, “and it was an amazing experience.” He said he was trying not to set a timetable, but hoped to be back at the big league level in two-and-a-half to four years.