In the post-WBC glow, this Thursday seemed like a slow day, with players returning and getting back into the flow, fine-tuning for the season as it approaches in just a week and a half. Then, suddenly, a firecracker erupted.
Dan Vogelbach was expected to be the starting first baseman against RHP entering camp, and depending on his performance might wrest full-time control of the position. A disappointing .228/.313/.333 line in 64 PAs put a damper on those expectations, but this demotion comes as a bit of a surprise. Jerry Dipoto has spoken a lot about Vogelbach having little left to prove at the AAA level, but apparently his struggles this spring gave the Mariners some pause.
Dipoto felt that Vogelbach's last 10 games of struggles determined the decision. Said they are using the same plan as Zunino and Paxton— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) March 23, 2017
There are a couple ways to look at this: one, a judgment made on a small sample size of results, which would be disappointing, regardless of if you agree with the decision, or two, results aside, what the organization has been working with Vogelbach on, they were not seeing properly executed. In particular that has been defense, but could also have to do with approach. Vogelbach started out strong, showing the excellent plate discipline he’s been known for, but his lack of slugging, combined with a recent uptick in strikeouts, appears to have put Danny Valencia in the leading position. Defensively, neither are stellar. Valencia has hit lefties exceptionally his whole career, but in the last few years, as Jake Mailhot detailed recently, has become an above-average hitter against righties as well.
The Mariners also have worked Taylor Motter at first base with frequency, and his ability to play every position on the field with decent skill may have lent them the confidence to give Vogey some extra time in AAA. Starting the season, the Mariners have floated the idea of running an 8-man bullpen, meaning the bench would be limited to just three position players. Carlos Ruiz, Taylor Motter/Shawn O’Malley, and Guillermo Heredia/Ben Gamel could feasibly run backup duties for a few weeks. Hopefully Vogelbach does not require the multiple months that Zunino and Paxton did to get right, but if he does, Valencia theoretically can provide solid play. The margin for error has just thinned, though.