2007 Draft Spotlight: Josh Vitters
Josh Vitters is the best high school hitter in the draft this year. He has a short, compact stroke with outstanding bat speed that produces plus-plus power for someone who has yet to turn 18 years old. At 6-3 and 195 pounds, Vitters has the frame that should lead to even more power as he matures physically. He is almost a lock to be drafted with one of the top four picks in the draft on Thursday.
Although not as gifted as Ryan Braun athletically, Vitters reminds me of the Milwaukee Brewers rookie when it comes to his position, body type, and hitting prowess. I've seen Vitters play three times: once last year and twice this season. I was also fortunate to witness Josh take a "private" batting practice session for Jim Bowden of the Washington Nationals after one of the games a month or so ago. His coach stood in front of the mound and threw about 30 pitches. Fourteen of them left the yard by my count. The dimensions at Cypress High School are 320 feet down the lines and 380 feet to straightaway center field. After a loose and easy warm-up swing on the first pitch, Josh hit the next five offerings over the fence. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. He pumped another nine out. Bowden had seen enough and walked away, probably wishing he could trade up in the draft.
Josh's Cypress HS team won four Empire League titles plus a California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section (CIF-SS) Division II championship during his sophomore year. He was pulled up to the varsity halfway through his freshman season and played third base all four years, winning a multitude of honors and even more praise from scouts. His team recently lost a second-round playoff game. In an exclusive interview with Baseball Analysts, I asked Josh about his finale, high school career, college/pro ambitions, and a lot more.
Rich: Your high school team lost a playoff game recently.
Josh: We played Vista Murrieta at their field and lost 5-4.
Rich: That sounds like a heartbreaking loss.
Josh: Yeah, we were up 4-2 in the last inning and they came back and scored three to win.
Rich: How did you do in that game?
Josh: I went 2-for-3 with a home run.
Rich: Good for you.
Josh: Well, at least I did well in my last game.
Rich: You had a bout with pneumonia earlier in the year. How much time did you miss?
Josh: I missed about three weeks and six games. It was pretty hard to watch my team play while I was sick. I lost 15 pounds and a little bit of muscle, and it took at least three more weeks on top of that to get everything back. I'm finally starting to feel close to 100% now.
Rich: How long did it take to get your batting stroke back?
Josh: My batting stroke came back pretty fast, but my power was lagging a little bit when I came back.
Rich: If the "private" batting practice you gave to Jim Bowden a few weeks ago was any indication of power, I'd say you're all the way back now.
Josh: (bashfully) Yeah, I was feeling pretty good.
Rich: Did you get a chance to talk to Mr. Bowden that day?
Josh: Yes, he introduced himself and talked about the Nationals.
Rich: Washington, of course, has Ryan Zimmerman firmly implanted at third base. I can't help but think the Nationals might eventually move you to a different position if they drafted and signed you.
Josh: I actually asked him where I'd be going if they picked me, and he said I would probably start out at third base for the first year and then just see what happens from there.
Rich: How many teams have you worked out for?
Josh: About 20 teams.
Rich: Have most of them been one-on-one sessions like you did for Bowden?
Josh: Earlier in the year I was doing a lot more but lately it's been pretty much those private things. I did it for the Nationals when you were there. I did one for the Pirates, the Cubs, and a couple of others.
Rich: Was it mostly taking batting practice or did they work you out in the field as well?
Josh: They hit me some groundballs, too, but nothing too much.
Rich: Most mock drafts have you going third to the Cubs or fourth to the Pirates. Do you have any preference as to which team drafts you?
Josh: No, it's not a big deal because the Cubs and Pirates are both great clubs. It doesn't make any difference to me.
Rich: How long have you been swinging a wood bat?
Josh: Since after my freshman year. I played on the ABD Bulldogs [a travel team] and in a lot of wood bat tournaments. That's where I learned to use the wood bat.
Rich: When did you start playing games on a national level?
Josh: My first time was when I played for the Youth National Team as a 16-year-old after my sophomore year. We went to Monterrey, Mexico and finished in second place in that tournament.
Rich: I saw you play last summer in the Area Code Games in Long Beach. You had a good tournament.
Josh: Yeah, I did pretty good. I only got to play in about half the games because I had to leave early for the Aflac game in San Diego.
Rich: ...where you acquitted yourself quite well, going 3-for-4 with three doubles and a walk while facing four pitchers (Matt Harvey, Michael Main, Madison Bumgarner, and Rick Porcello) who are projected to go in the first round in this week's draft. Tell us a little bit about each of those at-bats and pitchers.
Josh: I knew I was going to face some pretty good pitching, probably like low- to-mid-90s for every guy who went out there. I faced Michael Main first. He was like the Big Dog, the number one pitcher in the nation for high school baseball so I knew he was going to be bringing it pretty good. I was looking fastball from him because I thought he was going to try and blow the fastball by me. He threw me some fastballs, and I fouled a few pitches back. He then threw a few curveballs. It was my longest at-bat of the game. I fouled off about seven balls before I hit a double off the fence.
Rich: That was a good at-bat.
(Chuckles on both sides.)
Josh: Yeah. My second at-bat was against Madison Bumgarner. He just threw me a low curveball on the first pitch, and I hit it for a double. I wasn't really looking for any pitch that at-bat. Instead, I was just looking for something in my zone that I knew I could handle.
Rich: See pitch, hit pitch, right?
Josh: (Smiling) Yeah.
Rich: How did you do against Harvey and Porcello?
Josh: I walked against Matt Harvey. I can't remember if I hit any foul balls off him. I just remember that I walked. Porcello . . . I hit the first pitch off him, too. It was a low-hanging curveball and I just pulled it down the left-field line for a double.
Rich: Which of those pitchers did you make an out against?
Josh: I made an out against Josh Smoker.
Rich: He might also get drafted in the first round. That's a pretty good fivesome you faced. What did you do against Smoker?
Josh: I popped out to second base in the last inning.
Rich: Did you play in any other competitions like that last summer?
Josh: I played in the Cape Cod High School Classic before the Aflac game. I did pretty good in that, too. I got the MVP Award for the game. It was televised on ESPN. . .ESPNU, I think. I went 4-for-5 with two doubles and two singles.
Rich: You signed a letter of intent to Arizona State. How many colleges recruited you, which ones did you narrow the choice down to, and why did you select ASU?
Josh: Pretty much every west coast school contacted me. There were a couple of out-of-state schools, like Miami and Oregon State. Almost all of the Pac-10 teams. I narrowed it down to UCLA, USD, Oregon State, and Arizona State. I visited ASU, loved the coaching staff and the facilities, and I knew it was the right fit.
Rich: Do you have a preference between college and professional ball?
Josh: I really want to go out and play pro ball but college wouldn't be a bad thing either.
Rich: Nez Balelo of CAA is your adviser. How did you go about choosing an adviser and what made you select Nez?
Josh: We interviewed about 10-15 different firms and Nez was just the one that really stuck out, the guy that we liked the most. Most of the firms came in with two or three or four guys. Nez came by himself and was just really professional. He's hands on with his job, which I really like.
Rich: Your brother Christian played shortstop at Cypress HS and third base for Fresno State before being drafted by the Oakland A's last June. He is now playing for the Kane County Cougars in the Midwest League (Low-A). How often do you talk?
Josh: We're really close. We talk on the phone nearly every day.
Rich: Has Christian offered any words of wisdom about college or pro ball?
Josh: He just tells me how it is in pro ball, all the things that are different from high school. It's just a lot different practicing and playing every day and not going to school.
Rich: Who is your favorite player?
Josh: Mickey Mantle. Christian and I are both pretty big Mantle fans.
Rich: Who has had the biggest influence on developing your baseball skills?
Josh: My Dad. He's really intelligent about picking up things with my swing. He pitches batting practice to me at the local park or with wiffle balls in the front yard.
Rich: Do you find hitting wiffle balls good practice?
Josh: Yeah, it's pretty good practice. Definitely not as good as live BP, but it's probably the second best thing.
Rich: Do you use a wood bat?
Josh: It all depends. Now, I probably would because I'm only going to be hitting with the wood bat.
Rich: What do you think is the biggest difference between a wood bat and aluminum?
Josh: The weight is distributed differently throughout the bat. I actually like it better than the metal bat.
Rich: What approach do you take to the plate with you? Do you guess type of pitch or location?
Josh: I look for a pitch that I can drive, not necessarily any certain type of pitch. I'm just looking for a pitch in my zone that I know I can hit.
Rich: Do you prefer fastballs or curveballs?
Josh: I just like the ball in certain locations. I don't really care what type of pitch it is.
Rich: Inside or outside?
Josh: I just like hitting the ball wherever it is pitched. If you try to pull an outside pitch, it's not going to go as far as if you just try to go with it.
Rich: What are you going to be doing between now and the draft? Are you planning on going to your prom and graduation?
Josh: Yeah, I'm going to the prom on June 2 and my graduation on June 18.
Rich: What will you be doing to stay in shape?
Josh: Working out, doing agility stuff, speed training, jump roping, and a little bit of BP to stay fresh when I hit for teams.
Rich: Well, Josh. It was nice talking to you. I appreciate your time. Good luck with the draft.
Josh: Alright. Thanks.
For more on Josh Vitters, be sure to check out his player profile at the Aflac All-American High School Baseball Classic, his draft report at MinorLeagueBaseball.com (which includes a scouting video), and an article at MLB.com. Premium subscribers at Baseball America can also access numerous articles and reports on Vitters.