Saying that Dan Vogelbach is on the verge of fantasy relevance takes some storytelling cues from “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” Back in 2016, it seemed like only a matter of time until Vogey was a regular fantasy contributor. In the first half of 2016, Vogelbach hit .318/.425/.548 in Triple-A Iowa, with 16 homers and 18 doubles in 89 games. However, with Anthony Rizzo entrenched at first base, Vogey didn’t seem to have a role with the Cubs, so they dealt him to Seattle in exchange for Mike Montgomery.
Mostly because of his poor defense — but certainly also due in part to his non-athletic body — Vogelbach was never a darling of top prospect lists, but for fantasy purposes he seemed like a relatively sure thing for production in Seattle. As it turned out, he slowed down a bit after joining the Mariners system, hitting .240/.404/.422 over the final 44 games of 2016, and with Adam Lind performing at an okay-ish rate for the major-league club, it seemed Vogey would have to wait until 2017 to strut his chubby stuff in the big leagues.
Then came last season. The Seattle roster seemed to be constructed with Vogey specifically in mind, as the only first baseman on the roster was converted 3B/LF Danny Valencia — a lefty-masher who seemed a perfect platoon partner for the left-handed Vogelbach. Instead, Vogey again scuffled a bit in Triple-A Tacoma, compiling a respectable .290/.388/.455 slash, but with just 17 homers in 541 PA. As a result, Valencia played full-time until the Mariners acquired Yonder Alonso in August, hitting a mediocre .252/.296/.397 against right-handed pitching.
Even considering Vogelbach’s uninspiring 2017 numbers in Triple-A, it was hard to imagine him being worse than Valencia against righties. Still, even when compared to Valencia’s also-bad 1B defense, Vogey was considered such a liability in the field that he again received only a small cup of coffee in the majors for the second straight year.
When 2018 rolled around, it seemed like the 25-year-old would be stuck in Triple-A yet again. The Mariners acquired Ryon Healy to be this year’s version of Valencia, pairing him with Rule 5 pick Mike Ford, a lefty-swinging first baseman. However, this year would be a little bit different for Vogey.
As opposed to 2017, when he struggled in Spring Training (.228/.313/.333 in 64 PA), this year Vogelbach was one of the league’s hottest hitters in March. By the time Spring Training ended this year, Vogelbach had posted a .407/.529/.926 slash with seven bombs and seven doubles in just 67 PA. Ford hit decently as well (.259/.385/.500), but Vogey made enough of a statement that Seattle sent Ford back to the Yankees and gave Vogelbach a spot on the Opening Day roster.
Still, manager Scott Servais was unconvinced, as he gave Healy the nod in the season opener, despite the fact that the Mariners were facing right-handed stud Corey Kluber. It was only when designated hitter Nelson Cruz went down with an ankle injury that Vogelbach started seeing playing time in the starting lineup.
Of course, at this point in the season, every sample is infinitesimally small, but there are plenty of reasons to believe the tide is turning for Vogey’s fantasy relevance. First and foremost, there’s the power he displayed this weekend. If you simply look at his minor-league stats, you don’t see the light-tower power he’s always displayed in batting practice — although that power was certainly out in full force this weekend.
On Friday night, Vogelbach unleashed his first major-league home run, this impressive blast off Chris Hatcher:
The next concern piggybacks off the previous one, which is that his unimpressive discipline rates in the majors are due to a weakness against quality off-speed pitches. One knock on Vogey is that he often looks rather lost against breaking balls, as you can see here. Again though, it feels like it’s way too early to make judgments on this — but it is worth pointing out.
The biggest issue I have with Vogey’s 2018 outlook is a combination of Nelly Cruz and Scott Servais. Anyone can see that Vogelbach is a very bad defensive first baseman, and the presence of Cruz at DH means that Vogey’s still blocked from his “natural position” of “not actually playing a position.” That’s the Cruz problem.
The Servais problem stems from the fact that just last year, the Mariners’ manager had no problem playing Valencia nearly every day until Alonso arrived late in the season. Healy is essentially a repeat of the Valencia situation — he can probably be expected to post a .700-750ish OPS vsR, and is also a poor defender — so unless Servais has had a change of heart, there’s a chance he’ll simply plug Healy back in as the regular first baseman once he returns from injury. Also, even if they end up forming a platoon, Vogelbach will surely head to the bench whenever the Mariners face a lefty, and could also be prone to defensive substitutions late in close games — this actually happened on Saturday, when Vogey was pulled late in favor of Taylor Motter’s far superior glove work.
So, sure, there’s quite a few potential negatives here. That’s probably why Vogelbach’s ownership rates — 2% Yahoo, 1.9% ESPN, 11% CBS, 48.6% Ottoneu — are so low. However, it’s not exactly common to find a guy with this much upside going essentially un-owned across all non-Ottoneu fantasy leagues. (Side note: perhaps that Ottoneu ownership rate indicates that the more hardcore fantasy set is already buying in.) If Vogelbach continues to get even semi-regular playing time, his power production could be a great addition to any fantasy team. Additionally, owners in OBP leagues could reap the benefits of his career .400+ OBP in Triple-A.
He’s far from a sure thing, but if you’ve got a bench spot to play with, and you need either corner-infield depth or power production, you could do a whole lot worse than rolling the dice on Vogey’s upside.