With a home behind the plate, Vogt begins to thrive
After bouncing around the field, the veteran was happy to settle at catcher
PHOENIX -- Before coming to the A's, Stephen Vogt was floundering in the status quo that had become his career as a Minor League utility man. Everyone saw he possessed a nice swing, but Vogt craved a sense of permanence on the diamond, an aspect of his game to focus on besides his bat.
With the Rays, the team that drafted him in the 12th round in 2007, Vogt was a man without a position, bouncing around from the outfield, to first base to catcher. Tampa Bay saw him as a hitter above everything else, and that was true at the time, but Vogt didn't want his offense to define him. He believed he could offer more, all he needed was a chance to prove it.
As it happens so often in baseball, a change in scenery provided Vogt with just such an opportunity. After the A's acquired him last April from the Rays, Vogt became a full-time catcher in the organization and the ensuing results were staggering.
Not only did Vogt take to catching exclusively like a moth to a light, his numbers at the plate spiked upwards too, as concentrating on one position freed his mind from the often overwhelming responsibilities of a utility player.
"The A's gave me a chance to fail," Vogt said. "I didn't have that before. Being in left field for three days, and then getting behind the plate the next day, that's tough. I have nothing bad to say about Tampa, but I definitely think that the confidence Oakland had in me was huge for what I accomplished last season."
And boy did he accomplish a lot.
Appearing in 75 games for Triple-A Sacramento, Vogt hit nearly 50 points higher than the season before, batting .324 with 13 homers and 58 RBIs while posting a .997 fielding percentage behind the plate. He got a cup of coffee with Oakland in June, playing four games and collecting his first Major League hit, a homer against the Cardinals before returning to the Minors. A month later, John Jaso's season-ending concussion prompted another call up for Vogt, who stayed with the A's for the rest of the season and into the playoffs.
Finally receiving his first extended look in the Majors, Vogt proved to the A's and himself that he could succeed in the bigs, turning in steady defense and finishing with a .252 average in 47 games. Then in Game 2 of the American League Division Series, Vogt delivered the game-winning hit in the bottom of the ninth inning to lift the A's over the Tigers.
Not too shabby for a guy the Rays designated for assignment just a few months earlier.
"The whole experience was so humbling for me," Vogt said. "Anybody you talk to, no matter what their age, until you have success in the Majors, you have no idea what it's like. There's definitely that element of 'OK, can I do this?' Because you always believe that you can, but until you actually prove it, belief is all that you have. So after getting the opportunity to play like that, I feel like I belong now."
In the offseason, Vogt continued his progress behind the plate, utilizing specialized workouts to strengthen his legs for the rigors of catching. He also found local players back home to throw to him and when that option wasn't available, he asked his wife to throw balls in the dirt so he could practice blocking.
"I'm 29 and I've been catching my whole life, but at the same time, I haven't really caught a whole a lot exclusively," Vogt said. "From just last year, my defense has improved immensely in every aspect, and I still feel like I have a lot of room to grow."
So far this spring, Vogt's bat appears to be on track to inflict even more damage as well. In seven Cactus League games entering Monday, Vogt is hitting a cool .500 (9-for-18) with three extra-base hits, two walks and four RBIs. He thinks an adjustment he made in the winter is the reason for the hot start.
"I'm just putting more emphasis on staying back and being able to drive the ball the other way," he said. "The more time you see the ball, the more time you have to make a decision. That's what I'm going for and I'm seeing that. I'm keeping my weight on my back leg a little bit longer than last year and it's helped."
Count A's manager Bob Melvin as someone who constantly finds himself impressed with the strides Vogt is making.
"He's a guy that came out of the pack for us," Melvin said. "He's got an all-around game, he's aggressive on the offense end and he's very take-charge defensively. He throws well, blocks well, works hard, the pitchers love throwing to him. He's just another guy that we just didn't initially foresee what he brings to the table for us."
Although Vogt appears poised to take the next step in his career, the A's may not have room for him on their 25-man Opening Day roster. Jaso and Derek Norris are expected to fill the first two catching spots and since Vogt still has Minor League options left, other players who don't will likely get consideration over a third catcher for a bench spot.
"Obviously, I want to make the team, but at the end of the day, whatever the decision is, I'll be ready when they need me," Vogt said. "If I start at Triple-A, so be it. If there's anything I've learned from my career, it's that any day I get to put a jersey on, I'm happy. I know that sounds cliché, but that's the truth. I'm 29-years-old, married with a kid and I still get to play baseball. Every day is a blessing."