"I've seen a kid who has matured," Cubs manager Mike Quade said Tuesday of Vitters. "I've seen a totally different person this spring. He deserves a ton of credit. When you're talking about talent, if a guy matures, the talent will be realized. He has plenty of work to do and that's a good example."
Vitters, 21, was the Cubs' No. 1 pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft out of Cypress (Calif.) High School. Last season, he played at Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee, and he now has a career .275 Minor League average.
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"It's definitely more familiar for me now than it was last year," Vitters said. "I'm more relaxed this year, I feel like I can be more like myself. I don't feel like I wasn't that last year but I feel more so this year because I've done it."
It's not that he was in awe last year. He just feels more comfortable.
He played in the Arizona Fall League, batting .253 with two homers and 13 RBIs, and then spent the offseason training with strength coach Tim Buss in Mesa. Tyler Colvin, who was the Cubs' top pick in 2006, was called up to the big leagues in September 2009 and made the Opening Day roster last year. Injuries have held Vitters back, but he's healthy now. That's all positive. His timetable to get to the big leagues?
"I don't have one that I need to reach," he said. "I have some goals, like I'd like to be up by the end of this year. That's just my goal and that's what I'm working toward."
Infielder Scott Moore knows what Vitters is going through. He also was a first-round pick, selected by the Tigers in 2002, and also prepped at Cypress High, where he played with Vitters' older brother, Christian. Both Moore and Josh Vitters have had their numbers retired by the school. Moore made his big league debut at 22 in September 2006.
"Not that getting to the big leagues is easy for anybody, but at 21, it felt like really, really, really far away," Moore said, "and the next year, that's when I got my first callup at 22. At 21, I was in high A [ball] and had a good year next year in Double-A and got called up. It feels far away and it feels like a struggle. Opportunities come when you least expect it."
Players drafted out of high school do need a little more time before they're ready for the big leagues.
"We're at a different level -- I don't know if it's a different physical level but it is a different maturity level," Moore said. "[The college kids] have three years on us so when they come into pro ball, they won't go to rookie ball and they'll start at high A. It took us rookie ball, low A, high A. I think it's different.
"You have to keep playing your game," Moore said. "Your opportunities come when you least expect it, and you just keep plugging away, playing hard, get your work in and things will work out."
Quade projects Vitters as a Major League third baseman. It's just a matter of time and opportunity.
"If he makes the kind of progress at third from this year to next year, he'll be a good third baseman," Quade said.
It's easy to forget how young Vitters is.
"Heck, we have a starting shortstop who I have to remind myself daily is 20," Quade said of Starlin Castro.
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings, and you can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less