Kolbrin Vitek adjusting to 3B with hot bat

Kolbrin Vitek playing 3Bphoto © 2010 Scott | more info (via: Wylio)
How much did the Boston Red Sox think of Kolbrin Vitek when the 2010 draft rolled around?

This much: The Red Sox made him their first-round pick, which was the 20th overall. Vitek was the highest pick for Boston since David Murphy was the 17th pick in the 2003 draft, which is another reason why Vitek received a $1,359,000 signing bonus.

For the most part, the now 22-year-old infielder hasn’t disappointed. In 56 games with Lowell of the short-season New York-Penn League, he hit .270 with 13 doubles, three triples, four home runs, 30 RBI and 13 stolen bases in 15 attempts. Boston bumped him up on August 25 to Class A Greenville, In 12 games with the Drive, he hit .275 and stole four bases in five attempts.

Just as important was the fact Boston drafted Vitek as a third baseman. While he was in high school (in Bryan, Ohio) and college (Ball State), he was flipped between pitcher, second base and third base. At the risk of using a golf metaphor, Boston might be inclined to give him a mulligan because of his limited time at the hot corner.

“He went through an adjustment because he moved from second base to third,” said Bruce Crabbe, who managed Lowell last season and now is the skipper at Salem where, in his first 20 games, Vitek hit .333 (26-for-81). “He was what you call a work in progress but he did improve as the season progressed. He had to learn different angles to throw from and different angles of balls coming off the bat plus the speeds of balls coming off the bat … how quickly it gets to you.”

An American League scout who saw Vitek seconded Crabbe’s motion about the problems that come with transitioning to a new — or at least relatively new — position. “Without question he had to learn to get proper reads off the bat, take correct angles to the ball and throw from the proper arm slot,” said the scout. “He has good arm strength which is a plus for that position.”

Vitek came to Boston after a dynamic 2010 season at Ball State. He hit .361 replete with 20 doubles, 17 homers, 68 RBI, 16 stolen bases and a .455 on-base percentage in 233 at-bats. In addition to being voted Second Team All-America honors, he was named the Mid-American Conference Player of the Year and was a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award which is presented to the nation’s top amateur player. And after his first pro season, BaseballAmerica.com rated him the No. 7 prospect in the New York-Penn League. (BBA had him at No. 9 prior to this season).

The fact Boston slotted him at third base allowed him to focus more on his hitting instead of having to be concerned with what position he might play on a given night.

“I think he has the potential to hit 20 and maybe 25 home runs in the major leagues and also hit for a respectable average,” said Crabbe. “Obviously, power will come as he gets older and becomes more comfortable. That being said, I’ve seen him drive balls as well as anybody but, mainly, it’s a matter of his commanding the zone.

“That isn’t something you learn easily. But you can see he has that ability. I feel he has above-average plate discipline which is great at this stage of his career.”

“He has what I rate as plus bat speed and has the ability to get the fat part of the barrel on most pitches with shorter extension to the point of contact,” said the scout. “This allows him to drive the ball with backspin and reduces any holes on the inside third of the plate which would open up due to over-extending early.

“Already, he produces good power when he squares balls up. To me, he has the potential to have above-average power if he learns to create more lift and arch.”

Ironically, the consensus was Vitek’s name wouldn’t be on the board when it came time for the Red Sox to make their first-round pick. The prevailing “wisdom” had San Diego and general manager Jed Hoyer (who was at one time Boston’s assistant G.M.) picking Vitek. Instead, the Padres selected a pitcher and the Red Sox pounced on Vitek when their turn came up.

“I think Boston really was high on this kid,” said the scout. “I’m sure they liked his bat as well as his overall athletic ability. He’s more polished than many kids his age but he still has some work to do – especially on defense. Give him time to get more comfortable … time to learn his (semi-new) position … and make a few adjustments at the plate and the Red Sox really could have something. Who knows? He could really have an impact bat.

“What also was a plus was that he signed quickly,” added the scout,” instead of dragging out negotiations like some kids do. Obviously, that enabled him to get in a full season (at the rookie level). That only can help him.”

Categories: Kolbrin Vitek

Sports editor at The Warwick (RI) Beacon from 1973-78. Sports writer at The Times (Pawtucket, RI) from 1978-1999. At The Times, I was the beat writer for the Pawtucket Red Sox and Providence College basketball. Retired from The Times in the fall of 1999. Have covered the Pawtucket Red Sox in one capacity or another since 1976. One of only two sports writers who covered The Longest Game (the 33-inning game between the Rochester Red Wings and Pawtucket in 1981). Member of the Words Unlimited Hall of Fame (Words Unlimited is a Rhode Island organization of sports writers, sports casters and sports publicists). Blogs in-season with a first-hand look at the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox.

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