It’s hard to not be a fan of Daniel Vogelbach right now. As I’m writing this, the first baseman leads the Cactus League in Slugging, OPS (On-base percentage + Slugging), and is one point off the lead in On-base percentage. In 56 plate appearances, the twenty-five-year-old slugger has walked 10 times, struck out only 9, and has collected 18 hits, 5 of them home runs, 3 since last Friday. He currently sits in 3rd place in batting average.
This is a far different Vogelbach than the player who showed up to Spring Training last year, where he hit .228 (13-for-57), with a .313 on-base percentage, .333 slugging percentage, and only 1 home run. Vogelbach has significantly increased his offensive production and walk rate while decreasing his strikeouts by more than half—he’s walked more than he’s struck out this Spring Training.
It was 362 days ago, March 23rd, that the rookie—originally slated to platoon first base alongside Danny Valencia—was optioned to AAA Tacoma after a dismal 10-day performance. “It’s been a rough 10-day stretch for him,” Mariners GM, Jerry Dipoto told the Seattle Times, “and we just felt at this point with where he is both offensively and defensively the best thing for him was to go back and start the season at Tacoma.”
He played nearly all of his 2017 season in Tacoma, hitting .290, with 17 homers and 83 RBI. Respectable figures, but down from the year before. That, coupled with his suspect defensive play, was enough weight to keep him down in the Minor Leagues.
If that wasn’t enough, Vogelbach took another hit this off-season when the M’s acquired Ryon Healy, an IULS (infielder of Unusually Large Size) from Oakland to become their everyday first baseman. Heading into Spring, things weren’t looking good for Vogey. However, when Healy underwent surgery on his hand mid-February, the opportunity came knocking (with the other hand) for Vogelbach to show he belonged.
Dipoto, in the latest edition of his Wheelhouse Podcast, said of Vogelbach, “[He’s] making his case, whether Ryon Healy is ready or not, to be on our 25-man club. Whether that is sharing time at first base while Ryon’s hand improves, whether it’s a bat on the bench or in this case it might be helping Nelly out while Nelly recovers from his quad.”
Promising words from the guy that pulls all the strings.
At least for the short term, Vogey may have already done enough to book his ticket to Opening Day, but he still has a mountain to climb, as Spring Training is just the prelim for the Big Show. If he proves capable of hitting Big League pitching when called upon he has the chance to become a regular call-up. However, the real difference maker is if he can bring his high walk and low strikeout rates from Spring Training with him. It won’t just be his hitting, but his ability to get on base and lengthen an inning that may decide his long-term fate.
So, pack along your friends, Daniel and we’ll be seeing you at Safeco.