Dan Vogelbach hits. That what he does, that who is, and it is probably what he was born to do. The 2nd round pick from the last Jim Hendry draft in 2011 has now made it all the way to AAA from Bishop Verot H.S. in Fort Myers, Florida. Along the way, a lot of myths circulated about his power. There have also been concern over injuries last year, but no one has ever doubted his ability to hit the ball.
The phrase most often used to describe Vogelbach’s ability early in his time in the Cubs system was “light-tower power.” He lived up to that in his first full season, hitting 17 HR’s between Arizona and Boise in 2012. In 2013, I got to see him play several times at Kane County. While he did hit 17 more homers for the Cougars, he impressed me more with his ability to use the whole field to spray the ball. He was promoted to high-A Daytona where he would spend the rest of 2013 and all of 2014.
Things changed in Florida. Known almost as much for his prodigious waistline as for his power, Vogelbach improved his fitness and eating habits to drop 30 pounds prior to the 2014 season. He gained a little speed and flexibility and still managed to hit 16 HR’s in a pitcher-friendly league, but his batting average went from .284 down to .268.
In 2015, he began the year at AA Tennessee, alongside Kyle Schwarber. The first two months of the year were outstanding for Vogelbach, as he hit .362 in April and .282 in May. Then a series of minor injuries kept him off the field for much of the rest of the year. He only played a total of 22 games in the second half and the injuries limited his ability to leverage his lower body correctly. As a result, Vogelbach limped to a .235 average in those games. He was still able to maintain a high OBP of .409, however, which is a testament to his approach.
The Cubs thought enough of Vogelbach to place him on the 40-man roster last fall rather than lose him in the Rule 5 draft. The 6’0″, 225-pound first baseman came into spring training healthy and ready to go in 2016. FanGraphs said the following of his talents earlier this spring:
His swing is built for loads of line drives and fly balls, and he has enough contact ability to make his bat profile at a high level. When healthy, he shows great athleticism at the plate, with exceptional sequencing throughout his swing, great balance, and a hand path that stays on the ball as long as physically possible.
I think what I like most about Vogelbach is his attitude. Some have been critical of his defensive limitations, yet he brushes those criticisms away and focuses only on what he can do. He is not going to left field or any other outfield spot. He will play 1B, pinch hit, and DH. That is who is he. And that is what he can do to help the Cubs win. He shared as much with Tony Andracki of CSN:
Whether there’s a spot for me with the Cubs or – that’s what I want to do; I want to play in Chicago and help this team win a World Series. So I’m going to play hard and perform, and wherever the chips fall, that’s where it’s going to happen.
This spring at Iowa, Vogelbach is off to a great start. In doing so, he is removing all doubt about whether or not his bat can help. Through 10 games, he is hitting .412 with a .487 OBP, one HR, and 11 RBI. The OPS sits at a pretty robust 1.075. His K-rate is a little elevated this year (over 30%), which is odd for him, but it’s still very early.
Sometimes I see Twitter trades posted by Cub fans and they always start with Vogelbach as a main piece. I don’t necessarily get frustrated by that notion, but he just turned 23 and what irritates me is that people sometimes seem to be quick to dismiss his potential. He is just getting started as a player, despite four full years in the Cubs system.
At the same time, Vogelbach is not quite ready for the majors at this point. Before the Cubs do anything, they are going to test him out. Vogelbach will get a full year at Iowa (400-500 at bats) and he could have an opportunity to come up to the big club and DH for a weekend or two in an American League park during interleague play this summer. Maybe he’ll even get the chance to hang around in September off the bench. That’s an overly optimistic estimate though.
I don’t think Vogelbach’s status in the organization changes much this summer because of the depth the Cubs have signed through the 2018 season. With Heyward, Zobrist, Baez, Rizzo, Bryant, and Soler all part of the system through 2018 to 2020, the Cubs are in no hurry to promote Vogelbach. If he goes on a tear this summer, other teams could come calling. But for now, there should be no rush to trade him. Let him get ready for the majors. He still has time.