Vogelbach's big day proves why he's 'an easy guy to root for'

May 19th, 2024

TORONTO -- Walking from the Blue Jays’ press conference room to their clubhouse after Friday night’s loss to the Rays, a muffled “thwack… thwack… thwack…” filled the concrete hallway.

Tucked deep in the left-field corner of Rogers Centre are the Blue Jays’ batting cages, which glow through a set of tall windows. Inside was , some 15 minutes after a Blue Jays loss, hacking away.

This isn’t an uncommon sight. Another 100 feet up the same hallway, you’ll find the Blue Jays’ weight room, and there’s always a buzz of players going back and forth following a game. Vogelbach’s presence looked different, though. He hadn’t changed after the game, only ripped out his tucked jersey and undone a few buttons. There stood Vogelbach, his .108 average hanging over him, hacking away.

Vogelbach looked like a man sick of his numbers and sick of this start in Sunday’s 5-2 win over the Rays, in his first at-bats since those late-night hacks he unleashed.

His first home run of the season opened the scoring for the Blue Jays in the second inning, a Statcast-projected 394-foot shot to right-center. Vogelbach enjoyed all 27.3 seconds it took for him to round the bases before stepping on home plate as he slammed his hands together. If you’d put a baseball between his hands at that moment, it would have come out looking like a hockey puck.

“I’m doing work that challenges myself and trying to make the work as tough as possible so that when I do get into a game, I try to make it as easy as possible,” Vogelbach said. “It’s never going to be easy, but I think if you challenge yourself with your work, you can go out into the game and just play. I’ve been trying to do that and hitting early, doing stuff to simulate as much as I can.”

Vogelbach wasn’t done, either. In his next at-bat, he slapped a double down the left-field line, past an infield that was playing him to the pull side. A single later, Vogelbach sat a triple shy of the cycle. If Vogelbach had rumbled his way to his second career triple to complete the feat, the roar at Rogers Centre might have toppled the CN Tower, so perhaps it’s best for all involved that he ended his afternoon going 3-for-4.

“If Vogey had hit a triple, it would have been the highlight of my year,” said manager John Schneider.

So much else went the Blue Jays’ way in Sunday’s win, another brilliant outing from Alek Manoah most important of all. Manoah shut out the Rays over seven innings of one-hit ball, a remarkable performance that buoyed hopes he can be part of this rotation’s long-term plans once again. But even that wasn’t as surprising as Vogelbach’s star turn.

Vogelbach is the 26th man on this roster. When the 26th man is batting .108 with a .395 OPS in mid-May with little value defensively or on the bases, there are going to be questions. What’s saved Vogelbach’s roster spot to this point is the Blue Jays’ hope that he’ll mash a few right-handed pitchers eventually and the fact that their next wave of position-player depth is all top prospects who they only want to promote when there is regular playing time available.

Among those prospects are Orelvis Martinez (No. 2 in Toronto's system, per MLB Pipeline) and Addison Barger (No. 6), both of whom bring legitimate big-league power. But Spencer Horwitz (No. 16) might be a more direct “position” fit for the Vogelbach spot as a first baseman. Speaking Saturday, general manager Ross Atkins’ answer on Horwitz’s future shed some light on how the Blue Jays view this roster spot.

“You see how much Vogelbach is playing, so there’s a benefit to how much this time means to someone at this point in their career, actually getting those at-bats and reps,” Atkins said. “Here, [Horwitz] would be playing once a week, maybe a little bit more because he can play first base.”

For now, though, Vogelbach rolls on. You can’t measure this part, but he’s beloved within the walls of that clubhouse. That carries weight.

“He is a tremendous supporter of his teammates,” Schneider said. “Whether he’s performing or playing, he never budges. He’s an easy guy to root for.”

The Blue Jays don’t have Vogelbach on this roster to take 600 at-bats. He’s here to flip a game or two along the way, and finally, after all of those headaches and all of that work, he got one.