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We still don’t know much about Daniel Vogelbach

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There are encouraging hints in this spring’s breakout, but not enough to know for sure.

MLB: Spring Training-Seattle Mariners at Texas Rangers Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

For a guy with as extensive a minor league resume as Daniel Vogelbach has, it’s remarkable how much we don’t know about him. His strength is the crux of his physical projection, while his bulk is the bowling ball tied to his defensive and baserunning development. His lack of consistent MLB opportunities has made it ever more difficult to deliver a verdict on his value. Even his hot spring this year was only Spring Training, and therefore we’re left to wonder what, if anything, is different now.

What we saw in terms of results was fantastic, but even as standout performances have been shown to move the needle slightly in increasing the accuracy of projections, there’s plenty of examples of spring heroes fading in the summer heat. What is more interesting is whether there has been a change in the process behind Vogelbach’s results, as that would lend his March breakout some credibility. That’s easier said than done.

From reports by Ryan Divish and David Laurila we know that Vogelbach was in a better place mentally this year over years past, and Vogey credited his confidence with improved pitch selection. Improved confidence is almost assuredly a huge part of his improvement, but that’s pretty far out of our zone of analysis. More tangibly, Vogelbach also shed some light on the process by which his swing has changed over the winter:

David Laurila / Fangraphs

The claim above is an interesting one, but it’s difficult to prove. For one, most Spring Training parks don’t boast publicly available Statcast or PITCHf/x data. For two, nearly half of his preseason plate appearances weren’t televised, leaving folks like me who rely on video (and ideally multiple angles of video) in the dark. For three, what video we DO have seems to show... a work in progress.

Here’s a Daniel Vogelbach swing from 2016:

MLB

And 2017:

MiLB

And 2018:

MLB

Other than a looser grip on the bat in the form of a slight pre-pitch waggle, this set of images would make a doozy of a “Spot The Difference” puzzle. For all that we’ve seen with guys making significant adjustments and swing changes over the past couple seasons, this is a subtle shift at most. I looked at dozens of Vogelbach’s at-bats over each of the last few years and there’s a lot of overlap from swing to swing. On occasion this spring he still cut himself off as he finished his swing, but for the most part his follow-through was noticeably smoother. That may relate to the positive results he got on balls in the air.

In 2018’s clip, it certainly appears that he’s swinging to come up through the ball a bit more (and generating backspin, as he described being his intent). But his hands remain up. That sets him apart from several notable swing-changers. Jean Segura, for instance, had a dramatic shift in his swing plane that began with his stance.

Instead, Vogey remains near his shoulders. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it makes appraising any adjustments he’s made all the more difficult from afar. I wish I had a clearer answer at the end of this but the truth is it’s still hard to say. Vogelbach should be receiving MLB plate appearances at this stage in his career. As several folks have suggested, if the choice is between him and Ryon Healy, there may be a strong case for Dapper Dan, or at least for a platoon.

Neither 1B has looked strong at the plate in the first series of the season, but, frankly, most hitters look silly against Corey Kluber, Cody Allen, and Trevor Bauer. We need to see more from both Vogey and Healy, because they’re who the Mariners are rolling with, at least until Evan White arrives in a few years. That’s been the story of Vogelbach’s career, though - we just don’t know enough. With Nelson Cruz likely to hit the DL and miss four or five more games, the odds seem favorable that Vogey gets at least a few more starts at first or DH. Maybe, finally, we’ll get a better look at if something has clicked.