Prospect has good moves
Vitek may find a home at third
Kolbrin Vitek has always been a good baseball player. He could pitch, he could hit, and he could play multiple positions. His versatility was such that he turned down a scholarship to pitch for Michigan in favor of playing at Ball State because he didn’t want to give up hitting.
“Michigan’s a good school, but I wanted to do both,’’ he said.
Ball State, a smaller program in the Mid-American Conference, was happy to oblige. Vitek pitched 202 innings in his three seasons, winning 13 games. He also hit .359 with 35 home runs and 159 RBIs.
Vitek was the designated hitter and occasional first baseman during his freshman season. Then he moved to third base as a sophomore. As a junior, the best fit was second base.
“I basically did whatever made sense for the team that season,’’ he said.
The Red Sox, impressed with his athletic ability and sound approach at the plate, made Vitek their first-round draft pick in June and quickly signed him to a contract worth $1.35 million.
Now comes the hard part: Finding the baseball player a position he can call his own.
For now, the Sox are trying Vitek as a third baseman. But his future could be in the outfield.
“I’m not completely comfortable, and it may take a couple of years the way it’s going,’’ Vitek said. “This is new to me and it’s difficult.’’
The transition to pro ball has been far easier at the plate. Vitek hit .270 with a .360 on-base percentage, 4 home runs, and 30 RBIs in 56 games for short-season Lowell and yesterday joined Single A Greenville for the final 12 games of the South Atlantic League season.
“He’s had the most consistent at-bats from the start of the season until now,’’ said Lowell manager Bruce Crabbe. “His approach is very good. It’s hard to teach. It’s usually something ingrained in you at a young age. You either have it or you don’t, and he has it.’’
Crabbe, a minor league infielder during his playing career, spent a lot of time with Vitek before games trying to teach him the intricacies of playing third.
“It’s a little surprising to me that he didn’t stick in one place in college,’’ Crabbe said. “But he has the athletic ability to do it. It’s now a matter of repetition and learning the angles. It’s going to take some time.
“It’s not an easy transition, going from second base to the corner. It’s a whole different ballgame. Balls come off the bat differently in terms of angle and speed. You need first-step quickness and a different arm angle.’’
Vitek will continue that work next month in Fort Myers, Fla., during instructional league sessions.
Many draft picks, particularly first-rounders, wait until close to the signing deadline in August to strike a deal in hopes of getting more money. But Vitek was eager to get started.
“I’m glad I did that, to get my first year out of the way,’’ he said. “It’s a little more comforting going into the offseason knowing what to expect.
“Even before the draft, I knew I wanted to do that. I wanted to find out what this was all about. I wanted to get an understanding of how professional baseball works. Now I can come in next year and be ready.’’
Lowell was a good place to start. Vitek adapted to the day-to-day grind of the schedule, got a feeling for what the Red Sox mean to the region and even learned to understand Massachusetts accents after growing up in Ohio and attending college in Indiana.
“I still haven’t gotten completely used to that,’’ he said. “People sound funny to me.
“But it has been fun. I’ve loved it. It’s cool being here and seeing how much interest the fans have in the organization.’’
Vitek, 21, has quickly learned that baseball is now what he does for a living. The fun he had at Ball State hopping around the diamond is in the past; now there’s work to be done.
“It’s different now, and you have to treat it that way,’’ he said. “You’re here for a reason and you have to act professional about it and go about your business the right way. It’s the same game but the lifestyle is different and the attitude is different.
“But I love it and I’m glad I’m here. Whatever position gets me to Fenway Park, I’m all for it.’’