Big season, big opportunity for Vogelbach

As Seager injury clarifies roles, slugger already making statement

March 12th, 2019

PEORIA, Ariz. -- had already been told he would be headed to Japan as part of the Mariners’ final roster, but Tuesday’s hand surgery for only further clarifies what had been a muddy situation at first base and designated hitter with the season fast approaching.

With Seager out, incumbent first baseman Ryon Healy has moved to third and will be the regular starter there going forward. That leaves Vogelbach and veteran Edwin Encarnacion splitting the first base and DH duties, with outfielder Jay Bruce also in that mix at times.

Vogelbach is out of Minor League options, so the Mariners were already determined to give him an extended look to start the year. But he’s made that decision easier by putting together another strong spring, batting .368 with a home run, not to mention a whopping .613 on-base percentage thanks to 12 walks in 31 plate appearances.

Being out of Minor League options makes this something of a make-or-break season for the 26-year-old, but he’s not letting that get into his head.

“It’s a big year, but I don’t know if it’s any bigger than any other year,” he said. “The name of the game is numbers. You have to put up numbers and produce. If you don’t, there’s another guy behind you that is going to produce. So I’m just confident in my ability and continuing to work every day, and I know at the end of the year things will be OK.”

Vogelbach struggled two years ago when he was in a Spring Training battle with Danny Valencia for the starting first base job and wound up in Triple-A Tacoma instead. He learned from that experience, came to camp more relaxed last year and put up a monster spring.

He’s yet to translate that to the Major League level while earning sporadic playing time, but the Mariners feel he needs a full season with 400-500 at-bats to establish himself one way or the other, and this year -- with the club retooling as it looks to the future -- presents the perfect opportunity.

“This has been a really good spring for Vogey,” said manager Scott Servais. “He controls the strike zone as good as anybody we have. The at-bats have been quality, deep in counts, seeing a lot of pitches. He’s hit some balls really hard. I think Vogey finally feels comfortable, like it’s his time and he belongs. Now he just has to take advantage of it. The opportunity is there.”

Vogelbach brings a unique skill set, with big power from his 6-foot, 250-pound frame combined with a discerning eye at the plate that has allowed him to put up an impressive .291/.411/.496 slash line in three seasons at Triple-A.

The hard part is translating that to the big league level, where hitters quickly get in trouble if they’re falling behind in counts and then being at the pitcher’s mercy. But Vogelbach has refined his approach on working counts.

“I’m just trying to really be picky with the pitches I’m swinging at, that I can do damage with,” he said. “If I can’t do damage with it, I’m just trying to take the pitch, and if I get to two strikes, I shorten up and try to put the ball in play.”

Being picky doesn’t mean being passive.

“I’m ready to hit from the first pitch,” he said. “It’s yes, yes, yes and then no instead of no and then to yes. It’s just really being ready to go from the first pitch, and then the pitcher will dictate whether I’m going to go with it or not.”

Expect Encarnacion and even Bruce to get more of the playing time at first base, with Vogelbach getting more at-bats in the DH role.

“Vogey will spend some time at first base,” Servais said. “It’s not his strength. His strength is in the batter’s box, but he continues to work on it, and he’s getting better over there. But the other guys are probably a little bit better on the defensive side right now.”

Wherever he lines up, Vogelbach is on the team and ready to let it fly, literally, as the Mariners head to Japan on Thursday in preparation for Opening Day in just eight days against the A’s.

“I feel like it’s been a good spring,” he said. “It’s a short spring, so you kind of had to get in and get your stuff going and get ready for the season. But I kind of like it that way. Things are winding down here, so I just want to get a feeling of where I want to be before we take off and get going.”