A few years ago the Cubs had a dire lack of power hitters in the farm system. That situation had shifted dramatically in a very short time, and the Cubs now feature one of the best collections of slugging talent in all baseball. Unfortunately, that slugging talent is almost exclusively of the right handed variety. And oddly enough, the one notable lefty in the new crop of long ball prospects, Dan Vogelbach, is probably the most tradable of the bunch.
That discussion is coming after this word from our standard Prospects Progress disclaimer. The goal here is not to re-rank the prospects (that comes next year) or to assess the strengths and weaknesses of farm as a whole (that also comes next year). The goal for this series is to take each prospect individually, study the progress made so far, and see what we can learn about the future for that player.
The good news on Dan Vogelbach is that he is showing signs of developing well as a pure slugger. The bad news on Vogelbach is that all he is developing as is a slugger. I think there is little question that he he can evolve into a prolific hitter. As for where the Cubs could hide his glove? That’s a much more complicated conversation.
Dan Vogelbach, DH/1B
Born: December 17, 1992
Acquired: The Cubs took Vogelbach in the second round of that talent-laden 2011 draft. He went number 68 overall.
The most notable thing about Vogelbach’s season isn’t that he hit (and he did quite a bit of that), it is that he walked a lot and did not strike out very often. His raw power numbers were not all that impressive compared to some of the other Cub sluggers we’ve talked about (Baez and Bryant in particular). Over 114 games (500 plate appearances) with Kane County his ISO was a good but not awe-inspiring .166 and his SLG was just .450. Those are solid numbers, but neither quite communicates the potential that many analysts see locked away in Vogelbach’s bat.
In a brief stint with Daytona during their playoff hunt (15 games, 66 PA) his power numbers remained fairly consistent: ISO of .160, SLG of .440. Keep in mind that those Daytona numbers come with a giant sample size alert.
His plate discipline numbers, on the other hand, were much more impressive. With Kane County he turned in a walk rate of 11.4% and a strikeout rate of just 15.2%. Those are both excellent numbers for a power hitter in his first full year as a professional. That impressive walk rate led directly to an OBP of .364 with Kane County.
As a member of Daytona those numbers climbed to 24.2% for the walk rate and 19.7% for the strikeout rate. His OBP checked in at .455.
Put those two stints together and we have a season line of .284/.375/.449 with 19 home runs. That’s not bad for a twenty year old guy in his first full season a a professional. That’s not bad at all. As his power continues to develop with experience, it is easy to see his already patient bat turning into a very potent middle of the lineup weapon.
About that Glove …
In the National League, though, his bat won’t reach any part of the lineup if he can’t adequately hold down a position on the field. The only position we can realistically imagine Vogelbach playing in the majors is first base, and even at first he is not projected to be any better than a little under league average.
He is often referred to as being surprisingly athletic for his size, but given that his size is 6’0″ 250 lbs, that is still not exactly high praise. That said, when we combine that greater than expected athleticism with what is reported to be a strong work ethic, I see no reason that he cannot turn into an adequate first baseman. That is probably his ceiling.
I don’t see any prospect of him ever changing position, either. The Cubs know what they potentially have in his bat, and the Cubs know that they could use a strong left handed bat to break up the right handed bats in their dream future middle of the order. If there was any other position the Cubs could move him to that would make it more likely that they could keep his glove on the field and his bat in the line up, catcher, left field, anywhere, they would be trying it.
They aren’t, because it isn’t an option. Vogelbach is a hitter, and that’s pretty much it.
With the Cubs already in possession of a left handed slugging first baseman who already plays near Gold Glove defense, the future for Vogelbach as a member of the Cubs looks limited. Unless the National League adopts the Designated Hitter, something that most likely could not happen until the next CBA is negotiated in 2016, Vogelbach is going to have a tough time ever winning a job in Chicago.
And that makes him the most obvious trade candidate in the farm system. He showed enough discipline at the plate this season that I think teams would be willing to deal for him with a fair amount of confidence, but he isn’t going to bring the return that one of the Cubs elite prospects would. Not yet, anyway. If he continues to post double digit walk rates while showing more power as a member of the Daytona Cubs in the first of the 2014 season I think he’ll start to climb into the Top 100 lists with a lot more consistency. And if he continues those number when he moves to Double A, possibly as soon as the second half of 2014, he should be cracking Top 100 lists with ease. Those results enhance his value somewhat, I think, but that value will still be limited by his defense.
It is also possible that he is dealt this winter. This offseason looks like it will be one more remembered for trades than free agent deals, at least so far, and I doubt the Cubs will be spectators as that trade market unfolds. If the opportunity appears for the Cubs to add a key long term piece or two, Vogelbach is a name that is likely to come up as a candidate to go the other way.