Daniel Vogelbach’s bat sends message that Mariners need to get him at-bats
When last season ended, the Seattle Mariners had every intention of seeing what Daniel Vogelbach could do at the Major League level in 2019.
They let six-time All-Star Nelson Cruz leave for Minnesota in free agency, clearing the way at designated hitter, and the team was prepared for Vogelbach’s permanent arrival in Seattle knowing he would be out of minor league options in 2019.
“We have to make a determination to where he fits,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said about Vogelbach in an interview with 710 ESPN Seattle’s Danny, Dave and Moore last September. “Whether that is a timeshare at first base, whether it is taking DH at-bats, it’s going to be one of those because we do feel like he is an asset.”
But as the team’s turbulent offseason turned to the regular season, those at-bats for the budding 26-year-old slugger suddenly looked hard to come by. Through blockbuster trades with the Mets and Indians, the Mariners ended up with a pair of former All-Stars, Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnación, that they seemingly had hoped to flip before the season began. Instead, the veterans had to be added to a logjam at Seattle’s first base and DH situation that already included Vogelbach and Ryon Healy.
So 10 games into the Mariners’ season, Vogelbach had received just 14 plate appearances, the majority coming out of a pair of starts given to him as the 36-year-old Encarnación nursed a sore hand.
That minor injury to Encarnación was the door being cracked open for Vogelbach. And with those two starts and a nod over Bruce in Sunday’s lineup, he kicked it wide open.
On Tuesday, Vogelbach went 2 for 3 with a game-winning home run in the eighth inning against the Angels. He had two more hits on Friday in Chicago, including another solo homer. And on Sunday, Vogelbach broke out with his first multi-homer game in the MLB, adding a bases-clearing double to drive in a career-high six RBIs while going 3 for 4 with a walk. Put everything together, and you’ve got a ridiculous 1.979 OPS to go with a .467 average, four home runs, five runs scored and eight RBIs in six games.
Good luck figuring out the lineup card each day, Scott Servais.
“At the end of the day, my team is not going to be happy with me,” the Mariners manager said after Sunday’s 12-5 win over the White Sox. “You can’t play them all, but as long as they’re producing like this, it’s a good problem to have.”
While Vogelbach’s torrid start at the plate might give Servais a few more options than he needs, it also has to make Dipoto pretty happy. After all, Vogelbach was the first forward-thinking acquisition Dipoto made for the Mariners, getting him from the Cubs as the main piece of a package for left-handed pitcher Mike Montgomery midway through the 2016 season.
After mostly underwhelming appearances here and there over each of the past three seasons with the Mariners, there were concerns that Vogelbach wasn’t going to amount to much outside of the Triple-A, where he was having no trouble handling minor league pitching. Dipoto remained confident in Vogelbach’s abilities, however, as he made clear last month in another interview with Danny, Dave and Moore.
“Last year we just didn’t have the at-bats to give him at the Major League level to find out where he was. This year we will,” Dipoto said. “… He’s done all you can do to be convincing at the minor league levels. He’s roughly destroyed the (Triple-A) PCL over the last two-plus seasons. There’s no reason why this shouldn’t work in the big leagues.”
You could argue Vogelbach should have seen more opportunities last season with the M’s, especially after an incredible spring training, but with Cruz around and options left for Vogelbach, the Mariners opted to stick with the more defensively-sound Healy at first base. There’s no arguing, however, that Vogelbach has done everything he possibly could have in the first two-plus weeks of this season, one in which he was expected to be a regular presence at first base and DH only to watch the M’s end up with one of the best DHs of the past decade and a former Home Run Derby champion.
Vogelbach has plowed through the latest block in his road to Major League playing time, though, so the question now is what Seattle will do with Encarnación and/or Bruce. Will Dipoto expedite a trade of one of them to a team looking for help at DH or first base? Do they become a left-right platoon until the season gets closer to trade deadline?
Whatever happens, the priority for Seattle should be seeing how long Vogelbach can keep producing instead of showcasing Encarnación and Bruce for potential suitors.