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January 18, 2012 at 12:46 PM

Vitek still learning, working toward majors

Kolbrin Vitek
(Kelly O'Connor)
BOSTON, MASS. -- Since being selected with the Red Sox’ first pick in the 2010 draft, Kolbrin Vitek has faced plenty of questions about his future. What position would he play? After a season in the cavernous parks of the Carolina League during which he slugged .372, some have asked whether he has enough power to make it in the majors.

However, the fact remains that the Ball State product is pacing his draft class up the ladder to the majors – as one would expect a first-round college pick to do – becoming the first of the 2010 draftees to make it to High-A when he opened the 2011 season with Salem, and presently projected by SoxProspects.com to begin the 2012 season with Double-A Portland along with fellow 2010-ers Bryce Brentz and Anthony Ranaudo.

Vitek, drafted as somewhat of a man without a position, understands that he needs to continue improving at third base to man the spot in the majors. In college, Vitek spent his first season at first base, his sophomore year at third, and his junior year at second base in order to lessen the strain on his arm, as he also pitched. The Red Sox chose to slot Vitek at third base, at least to start his development, and while scouts still are not sold on his future there, if he moves, it will not be for lack of effort. The sight of Vitek taking extra ground balls off to the side was a regular part of catching Salem’s pre-game workout last season.

“Last year was a big stepping stone for me,” he said last week at the New Stars for Young Stars fundraiser. “First half of the season compared to the second half, I felt like I made major improvements. It’s just about getting that repetition in, and getting more comfortable with the position. But I’m feeling great there and I’m feeling more comfortable.”

In discussing his goals for the season at the event – at which, this author notes, he ran away with unofficial Best Dressed honors, sharply clad in a French-cuffed collared shirt, skinny tie and gold tie clip – Vitek included both advancing to Double-A Portland and to “continue playing third base, and be an every day player there.”

Vitek also kept a realistic perspective on his season in the notoriously pitcher-friendly Carolina League. Last season, the only American professional baseball league in which fewer runs were scored per game than the 4.19 from that circuit was the National League. So while Vitek’s .372 slugging percentage looks subpar for a third baseman, it was actually not far below the league average of .379 (compared to .386 in the Florida State League and .430 in the California League). Vitek was aware of the Carolina League’s reputation coming into the year and mindful of it throughout.

“It was tough mentally because most of us have never struggled like that before,” he said, “but we all helped each other out through it and just reminded ourselves that it is a tough hitters’ league. We just had to stay positive with it and just work on other things when the hitting’s not going the way you want it to. You just work on your small game, or defense, and just stay positive with it.”

Once Vitek does officially escape the clutches of the Carolina League, he also knows that he will be just a couple steps from the majors. Although he was “kind of oblivious” about the comings and goings in Boston last offseason, he admitted to paying a lot more attention to transactions at the major league level recently. Who could blame him? Going through the system at this pace, it may not be long before Vitek can sniff the majors.

Chris Hatfield is Executive Editor of SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SPChrisHatfield