Cubs see some growth in Vitters

Cubs see some growth in Vitters
March 15, 2011, 6:46 pm
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Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Posted: 1:44 p.m. Updated: 5:31 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

PHOENIX Aramis Ramirez can opt out and become a free agent at the end of this season. Its a complicated, multiyear deal Ramirez signed months before the Cubs selected a 17-year-old kid with the third overall pick of the 2007 draft.

Ramirez says hes healthy and doesnt know how long he wants to play. Privately, the Cubs like how he stood up to Carlos Silva, and think hes ready to put together a big season.

The Cubs dont know for certain who will be playing third base next year. They can discuss with Ramirez their 16 million club option for 2012. They have a strong relationship with his agent, Paul Kinzer, who also represents Geovany Soto and Starlin Castro.

Josh Vitters, who was among the 18 cuts made Tuesday, isnt ready for prime time just yet. But the Cubs feel better about the 21-year-old third baseman from Californias Cypress High School, who skipped college to get an education in being a professional.

Ive seen a kid that matured, manager Mike Quade said. You get a brief look at a guy like Vitters last year and I tease him about being a little spacey. Ive seen a totally different person this spring. He deserves a ton of credit and should be real proud of that.

This offseason Vitters attended Camp Colvin, the strength and conditioning program run at the teams complex in Arizona. They all saw what Tyler Colvin did last spring, tearing up the Cactus League and forcing the Cubs to bring him to Chicago.

Outfielder Brett Jackson, the 2009 first-round pick from Cal-Berkeley, envisions himself playing alongside Colvin one day at Wrigley Field. He doesnt lack for confidence. Hes on a fast track that could put him in the majors sometime this year.

But first he has to go to minor-league camp with: pitchers Chris Carpenter, Jay Jackson, Trey McNutt and Scott Rice; catchers Steve Clevenger and Chris Robinson; infielders Bryan LaHair and Marquez Smith; and outfielders Jim Adduci, Lou Montanez and Brad Snyder.

Pitchers Robert Coello and Thomas Diamond were optioned to Triple-A Iowa. Pitchers Alberto Cabrera, Rafael Dolis and Kyle Smit were optioned to Double-A Tennessee.

The Cubs are particularly high on the pitchers they mined from the 2008 draft, a group that includes Andrew Cashner, Casey Coleman, Carpenter and Jay Jackson. Their impact can already be felt.

We have a mutual respect for each other, Jay Jackson said. We kind of came through the organization together. Its always been a fight to see (wholl be) the first one to the top. Weve all had success at every level. (Weve) all pushed each other. You see one guy go, youre like: Well, I want to be next.

But the Cubs have historically had more trouble developing position players. There have been concerns where Vitters ultimately projects as a corner infielder.

If he makes the kind of progress from last year to this year to next year, Quade said, hes going to be a good third baseman.

Here are a few names the Cubs passed on in the 2007 draft: Orioles catcher Matt Wieters (No. 5); Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner (No. 10); Braves outfielder Jason Heyward (No. 14); and Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello (No. 27).

Vitters knows those arent necessarily fair or direct comparisons, and he doesnt pay attention to any of the prospect rankings anymore. His fifth professional season will be a pivotal one. The clock is ticking.

People are trying to make an impression, Quade said. Theyre trying to show you they can handle themselves in this environment. There are a lot of different things kids can accomplish even if they dont break with us.

Now its time for them to go to work and be ready when the phone rings.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

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