- Bruce Levine, Chicago baseball beat reporter
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Rookie third baseman Josh Vitters will have to earn his way to a starting spot in the big leagues.
The 22-year-old Chicago Cubs first-round pick in 2007 made his major league debut on Aug. 5 in Los Angeles and the plan for the near future is for him to platoon with left-handed hitting infielder Luis Valbuena.
“Vitters has to develop defensively and a lot of this is the development at the big league level,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “We now get to see what we have first-hand and go from there during the winter.”
Vitters more than earned his promotion to the majors by hitting .304 with 17 home runs and 68 RBIs in 110 games at Triple-A Iowa. In all, the young infielder has hit .283 in 529 minor league games since signing with the Cubs out of high school.
But the game at the major league level has been an eye opener for Vitters since his call-up last weekend.
“The feel for the game is totally different here,” Vitters said. “Here it is 100 percent geared toward winning on a whole different level of trying to win.”
Improving his defense may be the determining factor for Vitters’ longevity at Clark and Addison.
“I don’t think the label is unfair but I am an athlete and I believe in my ability to get better and improve,” Vitters said. “I just have to work hard every day I am up here and prove I can do it.”
For now Vitters knows the drill. Being patient with his part-time playing status is yet another hill to climb and barrier to knock down in his development plan.
“They told me what is going to go on,” he said. “They are just going to give me playing time against lefties for the most part and expect me to work my tail off until I am just exhausted. I will concentrate on defensive work and hitting as well.”
Maturity and responsibility are other areas in which Vitters had to show improvement. In February he got off on the wrong foot with Sveum and his staff, showing up late for the manager’s first meeting with the entire team on the first day of spring training.
“Being around veterans this year, I tried to follow their lead and have a good routine of things you do every day to get yourself ready to play,” Vitters said. “That means prepared physically and mentally for each game. I think [the Cubs staff has] taken notice of these things and it is certainly a positive.”