So the Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational recently wrapped up. Instead of going over the draft, I’d like to take a closer look at my last pick because I think he’s really interesting and someone who has long been awaiting his chance to make an impact at the major league level. That’s the one and only Dan Vogelbach.
Vogelbach was selected in the second round of the 2011 MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs. In July 2016, he was then traded to the Seattle Mariners for Mike Montgomery and Jordan Pries. It’s a familiar story with Vogelbach. He’s one of those bat-first, no-glove guys. He’s built like a fire hydrant at 6’0, 250 lbs. Hack Wilson comes to mind, to use an obscure but fun Hall of Fame reference.
If you’re unfamiliar with that curious case, take a look at his 1930 season. Pretty crazy stuff.
Anyway back to Vogelbach. Let’s take a look at what he’s been able to do the past few years in the minor leagues:
|2015 AA CHC||313||18.2||19.5||.154||.390||.403||.272|
|2016 AAA CHC||365||15.1||18.4||.230||.423||.425||.318|
|2016 AAA SEA||198||21.2||17.2||.182||.375||.404||.240|
|2017 AAA SEA||541||14||18.1||.166||.374||.388||.290|
|2018 AAA SEA||378||20.4||15.6||.256||.426||.434||.290|
The one thing that stands out immediately is the superlative plate skills. Vogelbach has had tremendous knowledge of the strike zone for quite some time now as he has carried an on-base percentage north of .400 for almost four years now. You’ll also notice that the power production (ISO) has lagged a little especially considering that he’s one such an advanced hitter and has been in the notoriously hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League the past few seasons. So you might be thinking, “That’s great; why should I take note of this? Despite having posted great numbers Vogelbach is clearly destined to rot for eternity in Triple-A.” But take a closer look. This past year, Vogelbach managed to post both a best in ISO at .256 (excluding Rookie and Single-A early in his career) while also maintaining a career-low 15.6% strikeout rate. And that may just have happened on the tails of a change in mechanics.
The book on Vogelbach for a while had been that he’s a very disciplined hitter who hasn’t quite shown the power that you’d expect from someone with his size and plate approach. He had previously been content with spraying hits to all fields, and his batted-ball profile was one of the ground-ball variety. But entering 2018, Vogelbach decided to alter his approach; he felt that he had more power that he wasn’t utilizing. This past March in an article by David Laurila of Fangraphs.com, Vogelbach himself had this to say about his change in approach: “In the past, I just tried to be a good hitter — be a good hitter first, and the power would come. This offseason, I made an adjustment to where my intent is to get the ball in the air more often.”
We’ve heard this before. It’s become the clarion call of the new generation of hitting, emphasizing balls hit in the air. The “Flyball Revolution” as it were. This change in philosophy makes total sense for a player such as Vogelbach. He’s a liability defensively, and he has zero speed. So the best — and really only — way for him to make headway is to make the most of his power. His value to the big league team lies in his ability to drive in runs. And what better way to do this then to emphasize doing damage on balls launched in the air?
Vogelbach clarified that the reason he had previously not been able to tap into his power more regularly was mechanical: “I wasn’t using my hips the way I was supposed to use my hips; I’m using my legs totally different now. I’m really shooting my hips forward. I’m using my back leg a lot more and a lot better than I ever have.”
So fast forward a year. How did these mechanical alterations pan out? Well, in 2018 Vogelbach posted a career-best .256 ISO in Triple-A. And his 24 home runs across both Triple A and a 102-plate appearance stint in the bigs were also a career high. Now granted, it came with a 19.4% fly-ball rate, but it’s also worth noting that he did increase his fly-ball rate in Triple-A in 2018 from 36.1% to 43.3%. The incredible thing that was mentioned earlier was that he did this all while posting a career-low 15.6% strikeout rate in Triple-A too.
Not too shabby.
2018 Short MLB Stint
The great thing about deeper leagues is that it forces you to take a second look at players you would otherwise ignore. And that was the case here with Vogelbach. The goal at the end of the draft is to try and see if you can find a player who carries a modicum of upside, and that’s really tough to do when you’re almost 450 players in. Rummaging around, the thing that struck me was his Statcast data in 2018.
Granted, we’re talking about just over 100 plate appearances and 61 balls in play. So yeah, the tiniest of sample sizes. I can’t emphasize that enough.
But when you’re looking at basically a bunch of tumbleweeds, you’re pretty ecstatic to find someone who at least hit the ball hard in a short sample. So let’s take a leap into the small sample size wormhole and look at what he did this past year in the majors:
|Batted Balls||Barrel %||EV||Hard Hit%||xwOBA||High Drive %|
So in a very short sample, he hit the ball exceedingly hard, with well above average barrel and high-drive rates. Good to see. Now, what about that famed plate discipline? A quick look shows a sparkling 19.4% O-Swing and an 8% swinging-strike rate. His plate discipline is pretty remarkable. Yes, his triple slash of .207/.324/.368 during his short stint may have been pretty ugly on the surface, but Vogelbach did some good things if you look closely.
For fantasy purposes, his extraordinary plate discipline makes him a really appealing asset in OBP formats. But outside of those formats, Vogelbach is going to need those gains in power that we saw this past year to stick. If those mechanical changes did actually unlock some extra game power, there is potential fantasy relevancy as a corner infielder.
To clarify Vogelbach is a guy to speculate on in really deep leagues. In standard-sized leagues, there are just so many guys who provide a similar skill set: Think Yonder Alonso, Justin Bour etc. I don’t want to completely dismiss the possibility of a Max Muncy–type breakout because the plate discipline is so special that potentially added game power would present an intriguing player, but know those cases are certainly few and far between. He’s also been far weaker against southpaws as you’d imagine. And if the Mariners view him as a strict platoon/part-time bat like Matt Adams, then the possibility of a true breakout will go further by the wayside.
So where does that leave us? It is 2019. Vogelbach has done all you could possibly do in the minor leagues as a hitter. He’s now coming off a season in which he appears to have unlocked some more power. He’s once again doing some impressive things in spring training.
A familiar story, isn’t it?
Does he finally get his chance at the big league level on a retooling Mariner squad? General Manager Jerry DiPoto recently had this to say about Vogelbach: “He’s done all you can do to be convincing at the minor league levels. He’s roughly destroyed the (Triple-A) PCL over the last two-plus seasons. There’s no reason why this shouldn’t work in the big leagues.”
There are a couple of crusty veterans in Edwin Encarnacion and Jay Bruce standing in the way at first base/designated hitter, so there will have to be some juggling for playing time. But the recent injury to Kyle Seager will shift at least one potential block in Ryon Healy from first base back to third base.
He’s seemingly been around forever making noise at Triple-A, but maybe — just maybe — the stars have finally aligned. He may have unlocked some more power this past year too.
Vogelbach is 26 now and out of minor league options. He’s never been given a real shot for regular at-bats at the big league level. But it’s now or never. He’ll at the very least start the season with the big league club. He has his flaws, no doubt, but he’s more than earned a chance. And I suspect a lot of fans are also eager to see what his bat can do at the big league level over a full season.
Keep a close eye on Vogelbach because we may be seeing a few more of these this year:
(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)