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.”