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You’ve heard about him a fair bit in the Minor League Daily over the past week, and you remember that he was a part of the Cubs’ squeal-worthy 2011 Draft class. But I don’t know that we’ve appropriately highlighted just how absurdly good big first base prospect Dan Vogelbach has been, and why his relatively slow start to the year was excusable.

Vogelbach, 19, was the Cubs’ second rounder last year, upon whom the Cubs thrust first round money. He played just a little bit of rookie ball at the tail end of the 2011 season, but you can never really take too much away from those little snippets. This was going to be Vogelbach’s real debut season.

And then he didn’t debut. Vogelbach wasn’t sent out to a full season club when Spring Training broke, which wasn’t a huge surprise, considering his age. But then he struggled in extended Spring Training. No, the stats there don’t mean a whole lot, and you never really know what a kid is working on, but it was discouraging. Worse, when Vogelbach was finally assigned to a club, it wasn’t short-season low-A Boise, as had been expected, it was rookie ball in Arizona. The arrow was pointing down, even if we didn’t really have much on which to base that directional leaning.

Fortunately, Vogelbach started raking in rookie ball, as we all hoped he would. In 115 plate appearances, Vogelbach showed that he in way under his head, hitting a robust .324/.391/.686, with more extra base hits (21) than strikeouts (14). He was promoted to short-season Boise, and responded by upping his line to .347/.405/.750 in 79 plate appearances so far (even after an 0-5, 3K game last night). If the minor league seasons weren’t so close to ending, I’d think he’d be in line for yet another promotion.

So what exactly happened that took Vogelbach from a guy struggling in extended to Spring Training to a guy destroying all manner of pitching in the low levels of the minors?

“I’ve just been trying to be patient at the plate, get good pitches, not chase any and let the ball come to me,” he said in a recent interview with MiLB.com. “Recently, I’ve been slowing it down and letting the game come to me. It’s felt pretty good, but most of all we’re starting to win, and that means to the most to me. It’s a good streak right now. Hopefully, we keep it going.

“I started off slow in extended [spring training] and kind of came out of there with a chip on my shoulder, to prove I belonged. I think that I came a long way. I was really frustrated in extended, not myself, and I knew it. Instead of fixing it, I just got more and more frustrated. And then once the season started, I went back to the old me and it’s all coming back the way I want it to.”

Maybe he just needs to be playing in games?

In any event, it’s good to hear that Vogelbach feels comfortable just playing within himself, and that’s when he’s at his best. He’ll always have to adjust as he moves through the system – all players do – but it’s exciting to think that a kid with his combination of power, discipline and contact skills is just a natural at it.

To keep your Vogelbach excitement in check, understand this: because he can play first base only, to maintain his status as a big-time prospect in the Cubs’ system, Vogelbach is going to have to keep hitting like this over the next couple years as he climbs the ladder. It’s conceivable that Vogelbach could play a game here or there in left field in a pinch, but that’s not going to be his future. He’s a very big kid, but it works for him. You want him to stay healthy and in relative shape, but you don’t want to go tinkering with a young player’s body makeup just so that he could add a step or two in the outfield. Then you risk losing the very thing that makes him special in the first place: his excellent approach at the plate, and his unmatchable power.

And, understand this: there is no reason at all to start worrying about Vogelbach being blocked at the big league level by Anthony Rizzo. Vogelbach is 19-years-old, and is in low-A ball. He won’t even be considered for the big league club for another two or three years at the extreme earliest. So much can happen in the span of three years – Vogelbach could fall off, Rizzo could fall off, one or both could be injured, one or both could be traded, etc. – that it simply isn’t worth worrying about that issue for a long, long time.

What matters right now is that Vogelbach is hitting. Very well. We should just enjoy it, and hope it continues. It certainly sounds like he’s got the right attitude to fit in with the new guys in charge:

“I try to pride myself on being a complete hitter, not just a power hitter. I want to hit for average, limit strikeouts as much as I can, get walks, see pitches and get in hitter’s counts. If I do that, the homers will come. I don’t want to be that guy that hits 30 homers and hits .220.”

  • http://www.worldseriesdreaming.com dabynsky

    And not to be overly negative, Mesa and Boise are pretty hitter friendly environments. The numbers are staggering, but like you say he has to hit a ton to be a big time prospect. If he can put these numbers in Peoria next season then I think the excitement level will begin to really grow.

  • mark

    Notice what Vogelbach says:

    “most of all we’re starting to win, and that means to the most to me.”

    Almora said pretty much the same when he was interviewed.

    Then there was Vitters, who said the dedication to winning above all was a revelation to him at the MLB level.

    I think that explains the reservations/doubts the FO has had about Vitters. Young athletes are coached to say that stuff, and some of them believe it. The FO question, therefore, was about Vitters’ coachability. What’s he really about? Sveum sounds reassured.

    • Flashfire

      Actually, I was impressed by “the chip on his shoulder.” That’s what I like to see: a guy who can struggle and, instead of it getting into his head, it just drives him even harder to show that, dammit, he is more than capable of being here.

      Love this kid — and can’t wait to watch his development.

    • http://obstructedview.net Aisle 424

      Vitters has also been in the system for 5 years or so and most of that was under the Hendry regime where there was no system-wide philosophy or “Cubs Way.” I’m sure the driving force prior to this year was individual development, so I’m not surprised that Vitters was shocked at a difference in culture.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        under the Hendry regime where there was no system-wide philosophy or “Cubs Way.”

        I would argue that this is not the case. Under Hendry, the Cubs philosophy was “situational baseball.” It is based around the idea that the teams that make the most of their situations (clutch hits, clutch pitches, productive outs, etc.) are the teams that win. Under Jed & Theo, the Cubs philosophy is maximizing opportunities. It is based on the idea that the teams that create the greatest number of favorable opportunities (men on base, getting guys up who hit for power, pitchers throwing strikes) are the teams that win.

        So, the strategy probably is the same: preaching winning baseball. The tactics have completely changed. (Whether the execution of those tactics improves is another issue altogether!)

        • http://obstructedview.net Aisle 424

          My understanding (and it is entirely possible that I am wrong) is that there were serious fundamental differences in messages of instruction when going from level to level. While the “philosophy” might have been consistent as “be more clutch,” it sounded like the methods for being clutch differed depending what team you were with. One batting instructor might have been preaching working deep counts, while the next level concentrated on attacking and being aggressive on fastballs. Both messages might have fallen under the umbrella of trying to be more clutch. Whereas now, it seems like they have a philosophy (let’s just say it is working deep counts since that was the thing in Boston), and the “clutch” will work itself out because guys will have a solid approach no matter the situation.

          • DocPeterWimsey

            The Sox philosophy under Jed & Theo is that there are two batting situations: 2-strikes and less than 2-strikes. With less than 2-strikes, you look for a pitch that you can drive and take other pitches. That means taking “pitcher’s” strikes (i.e., the ones in the blue part of your heat zone.) With 2-strikes, you expand your swing-zone to encompass the entire strike zone: but not before then.

            The number of outs and where men are on base does not affect this. Despite this, the Sox always had a ton of SF: they were trying to drive the ball with less than 2 outs and men on 3rd and that generates deep flyballs. They did not make a ton of “productive” outs: but the scored a ton of runs because they did not give away outs and they kept the line moving.

            Of course, the Sox had better hitters than the Cubs do: but the Weaverball philosophy of keeping the line moving meant that they got the most out of those hitters, too.

  • Sinnycal

    There’s also the outside chance that the new interleague schedule leads to the NL adopting the DH just in time for Vogelbomb.

  • scorecardpaul

    there is also a less popular option…
    the Cubs may have a DH on the roster in a few years

  • J R

    Go get ‘em Tommy Boy..

  • http://bleachernation.com lou brock lives

    We’ve had a DH in LF the last 6 years – so what’s new ?

    • DocPeterWimsey

      Greg Luzinski used to stand in LF for the Phils. He had just enough range to get out of Maddux’s way on flyballs to left!

  • DocPeterWimsey

    Oops, Cub fan typo: Maddox!

  • art

    LF has always been for DH kind of guys on many ML teams.

  • 5412

    Hi,

    Vogelbach went to Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers where my youngest daughter was the baseball scorekeeper during the days ARod was in high school.

    I talked to a top evaluator when Vogelbach was drafted and was told his particular group did not have him ranked as high as the Cubs did. Ne was described as “not very athletic” and i understand he had his weight up to around 285# and then took a good bit off before the draft.

    Milwaukee had a fat kid playing first base for a few years too and I think he just signed a big contract with the Tigers.

    The idea of a DH needs to be kept in perspective. Normally a DH is a proven major league hitter who also proves he probably does not belong in the field. I cannot recall the last time I saw a kid go through the minors as a DH in the grooming process; although there may have been some. If that is the case they have to put up some awesome powern numbers along the way.

    regards,
    5412

  • PKJ

    Time to move to the AL Central.

  • #1lahairfan

    Hey Brett and Luke if Matt Garza was traded to the D-backs this winter what could the cubs realistically get back?

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Still too early to say. Depends hugely on whether he comes back this year, and, if so, how he pitches.

  • ibcnu2222 (John)

    Could Rizzo play another position?

    • MichiganGoat

      Maybe but no reason to even consider that until V is raking it in AAA, unless the DH comes to the NL i see V as a great trade piece if he continues to take through the minors.

    • ssckelley

      Rizzo is to good with the glove to move him.

    • Internet Random

      Yes, but no one’s going to ask him to.

    • Myles

      Rizzo could probably play a corner outfield passably (LF over RF), but there is no reason to really do so. He’s an upper-third defensive 1B whose bat plays at the position (projectably). Vogelbach *might* hit well enough at 1B (in 3 years), and will probably never field the position at even an average level. Best thing to do right now, in my opinion, is to pretend that Vogelbach doesn’t even exist (for the majors) until he’s pounding on the door, and when we’re ready to compete, dangle him as an awfully sweet trade chip if he keeps on keeping on.

  • Steve

    Hey Brett I heard Kaplan talk about a potentially huge return the Cubs would have gotten from the Rangers for Garza had Dempster agreed to sign with the Braves for Delgado. Is this true or far off. Thanks.

    • art

      maybe that could still happen down the road.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I don’t have any confirmation – talks never got to a finalized type stage, obviously, because Garza was hurt 10 days before the deadline – but it’s very conceivable the Cubs could have received an absurd amount from the Rangers if Garza had been healthy and effective. As it turned out, they were desperate.

      • Flashfire

        True, but thinking too much about what we could have had from the Rangers is the road to madness. Far better to simply blame every bad thing that happens to the Cubs for the next decade on Ryan Dempster and curse his name whenever its mentioned.

        • Jim L.

          Sounds like a good plan to me.

  • terencem

    What matters is his hitting right now, and that’s all I need to know. He really needs to lose weight, though. They weight could catch up to him faster than anyone thinks.

  • PKJ

    I wonder what his comparable is… Matt Stairs or Billy Butler? How does he run?

  • Fastball

    You don’t have to be real fast running out Home Runs! You don’t have to be real fast on doubles deep in the gap either. Not too many guys get thrown out at first from the outfield on singles. He isn’t employed to steal bases or run down fly balls in the gap. If he can play a solid first base defensively and dig balls out of the dirt he has a job for a long time. If he continues to hit and becomes a professional hitter his speed isn’t going to make that big a difference.

  • Fastball

    Babe Ruth was kinda built just like Vogelbach or Vogelbach is built a lot like Babe Ruth. He did pretty good.

  • http://ehanauer.com clark addison

    When Ruth was a pitcher with the Red Sox he was a skinny kid. It wasn’t until his late 20s that he got fat.

  • Jeremy

    Who knows maybe in 2-3 years when Vogie is ready there will be a DH in the NL.

  • steve

    I really like this kid. I was always under the impression that while he was a big kid, he was pretty athletic. If that’s true, I can see him in left. Hell we get by with soriano, we could conceiveably do the same with this kid. If he keeps going the rate he is, this lineup with castro, rizzo, baez, soler, and almora could be extremely dangerous

    • Chris

      He’ll NEVER be a regular OF. 1B or DH all the way. He’s a big kid, and he’s only in Short Season A-ball right now. So as Brett points out, there’s no need to start thinking about where he’s going to play. Those things work themselves out. I remember way back when Brian Dopirak was tearing up the low minor leagues. He topped out in AA, got released, and toiled in the Blue Jays system for a little while. We’ve got a good young 1B in the majors already. If Vogelbach makes it to AAA and is considered a good prospect, he’ll be trade bait to fill whatever needs there are at that time. I hope by that time the Cubs are contending and he’d be a nice player to include in a package for a good starting pitcher.

  • Mysterious4th

    If both him and rizzo are very productive at the major league level could vogelbach become a third baseman (just like the tigers did when they got fielder to cabrera) or maybe by then the NL will have the DH (which I don’t like, I love baseball because its a chess mathc when hitting and having the pitcher bat)

  • Cheryl

    What V does next year will say a lot. He seems pretty determined to make it. When he was first drafted I too thought he was built somewhat like Babe Ruth. It would be ironic if he was ever traded to the Red Sox who traded the Babe to the Yankees. Yet strange things happen in baseball.

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