PEORIA, Ariz. -- The looming question with first baseman Daniel Vogelbach coming into Spring Training was how the youngster would field his position defensively. And at first blush, not only is the stocky rookie handling things well, he's giving the Mariners a much better look in their aggressive shifts.The Mariners
PEORIA, Ariz. -- The looming question with first baseman Daniel Vogelbach coming into Spring Training was how the youngster would field his position defensively. And at first blush, not only is the stocky rookie handling things well, he's giving the Mariners a much better look in their aggressive shifts.
The Mariners are asking Vogelbach and veteran Danny Valencia to play much farther off the bag when the defense shifts over against right-handed hitters, better filling the hole between first and second. And the 6-foot, 250-pound Vogelbach has tackled that challenge head on.
The Mariners wanted to employ the strategy more last year, but didn't have the players who were able to pull it off with Adam Lind and Dae-Ho Lee. But Vogelbach has pushed the envelope noticeably as he tests how far he can roam and still get back to the bag to receive the throw from the other three infielders on a ground ball.
"The minute that ball is hit, he's got to put his head down and sprint to that base, and then look up," manager Scott Servais said. "And a lot of times the ball will be in the air. It's a challenge, and he loves it. And I love the fact that he loves it. I think that's the fun thing about having young players. They're eager and want to go the extra mile vs. just trying to stay in their comfort zone."
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The 24-year-old has hit well in the early going, as the Mariners expected, given his outstanding Minor League track record. But they've said from the start he's going to need to play defense to get on the field, and Vogelbach is happy to show what he can do, including the more aggressive shifting.
"It's good," he said. "It's making yourself uncomfortable to be comfortable. You can surprise yourself at how far you can get off the bag and be comfortable getting back. I'm just finding that middle and place that I feel comfortable.
"You look over and think, 'Man, I'm a little ways away.' But it makes it a lot easier. Robbie [Cano] is over more at second base, and I can get to that ball in the hole that I normally couldn't and take hits away. It's just little things that add up to big things."
Vogelbach worked hard on his flexibility and footwork during the offseason in order to give himself a chance to be better in the field, and the effort appears to be paying off.
"I'm taking pride in my defense," he said. "It's something I haven't before, but something I need to do now. It's about trust and confidence. The trust and confidence you have at the plate, you have to have the same in the field. That's something I'm gaining. It makes playing this game a lot easier."
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter [
@GregJohnsMLB]() and listen to his podcast.