My daughter has 32 stuffed animals on her bed. If I were to take 5 of them and throw them in the trash when she wasn’t looking, she’d never notice. She plays with the same two all the time (a cat and a bunny), while the rest simply take up space and no doubt feel neglected and sad.
But if my 11-month-old son picks any one of these rejects up, she throws a fit. She is incredibly protective of all her toys—whether she has time to play with them or not.
I think of this often when talking about prospects, especially Cubs prospects. The team is very good, the depth is very good, and the minor-league system is quite good. That creates an admittedly first-world problem:the Cubs have some good players that are ready to play Major League baseball, but the team has nowhere to put them.
That’s Dan Vogelbach right now. Sure, he’s only 23 years old, but he’s been in the system since 2011 and the way he’s mashing at Triple-A right now makes me think he’s ready to begin the last phase of his development: adjusting to big league pitching.
That is not going to happen on this team.
A couple of weeks ago, maybe—but that was only if Anthony Rizzo got hurt and needed to go on the DL. Even that possibility has become more unlikely now that Willson Contreras is up, crushing the ball, and playing some first base (he looked surprisingly good during the plays I witnessed).
If Rizzo needs to miss any significant time moving forward, Joe Maddon will play some combination of Javy Baez, Kris Bryant, and Contreras. Maddon’s already having trouble finding at bats for the guys already on the team, so calling up a another player who can only play first base isn’t in the cards.
Sorry Dan, but your future lies elsewhere.
The Cubs could certainly trade him away to an AL team and get something of value back, but would that really be the best way to maximize what he’s worth? We’re talking about a very good hitter that uses all fields and has plus-plus power that’s finally being expressed at the highest levels of the minor leagues: he’s hitting .308/.422/.556 with 15 home runs and 55 RBIs in just 73 games.
Lots of baseball people have expressed absolute confidence that Vogelbach would hit and hit for power, and his current performance at Triple-A seems to back those evaluations.
Vogelbach has value, but every single article or evaluation of him as a player has that one line in it: “he has no position.” Some believe he only has a chance as a DH, which limits the teams you can trade him to and caps his value somewhat. Unless he proves he can be a David Ortiz type of hitter (which, come on, that’s a stretch for anyone), it’s going to limit what you can get back for him.
That being said, here are three lighthearted zany plans (some zanier than the rest) the Cubs could implement to squeeze as much value out of Vogelbach as they can when the time comes to trade him. Please remember, before you get mad: these are mostly tongue-in-cheek. The point is that any flexibility will help him (and the Cubs) out.
1. The Piazza Position Switch
Nobody wanted to draft Mike Piazza because he was a horrendous first baseman and there was nowhere else for him to play. But the combination of his bat and a willingness to learn how to catch is what finally convinced the Dodgers to draft him (along with pressure from his father’s good friend, Tommy LaSorda).
The Cubs know how effective this can be. They’ve given Kyle Schwarber every opportunity to continue catching, and that has boosted his value considerably (it also helped that he mashed upon his arrival to the big leagues). They also did this with Javy Baez playing some center field during the offseason. Although he ultimately wasn’t traded, the fact that he showed he could play that position would’ve definitely expanded the list of teams interested in trading for him.
Can Vogelbach catch? Does he have a rocket arm? I have no idea. Fact is, if he did, the Cubs would have probably tried this already. But he sounds like a solid dude that’s willing to put in the work if it was something that would help his career. And it’s not like he has to morph himself into an everyday catcher: even if he were an emergency catcher or a third-string guy capable of giving his manager some flexibility, that would count for something (Tyler Houston, anyone?).
2. The Kieschnick Manuever
For those of you that aren’t familiar with Brooks Kieschnick, let me give you a quick recap. He was a Cubs prospect back in the days of Mark Grace, and the talk was that he’d eventually replace Grace at first base and provide plus power at the position.
It never worked out that way, but what did happen was Kieschnick started pitching and hitting in the minor leagues. He managed to bring that dual threat to the big leagues for a couple of years with the Brewers, hitting 8 homeruns off the bench and pitching just under 100 innings out of the pen between 2003 and 2004.
Kieschnik was a fun story because of how rare and weird it was to see a pitcher coming in to pinch hit and not look terrible at the plate (think Travis Wood with more power). Again, I don’t know if Vogelbach has a decent enough arm or the athletic ability to repeat his delivery for an entire inning, but this would give him a chance to stick on a roster and get that bat into play more often.
When teams go through stretches with no off days and some extra-inning games thrown in, that’s when guys like this can come in handy. Instead of juggling the roster to bring up a fresh reliever, you bring Vogelbach in to throw some innings and give you some quality at bats.
Vogelbach profiles as a much more gifted hitter than Kieschnick ever was, so this would just be a little something extra to get him more at bats.
3. First Thing’s First
This is the most serious suggestion of the bunch. Maybe Vogelbach can’t catch and can’t pitch. Maybe that’s all pie-in-the-sky, crazy thinking. Maybe he’s destined to be a power hitter that slots into the DH role. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your very best to sell him to the league as an average first baseman.
You point out how hard he works and how much time he’s willing to put into getting better.
You casually mention that, while he doesn’t look all that great in the field, it’s not like he’s a huge liability. After all, his career fielding percentage in the minor leagues is .991 (in 3,300 innings). Anthony Rizzo’s fielding percentage in 3,600 innings was just .989. The scouting says (and it’s right) that Rizzo is way, way better than Vogelbach, but don’t let that deter you.
And when you get asked if fielding percentage is really the best way to make that argument, you say, “Wow! Did you see this mammoth homerun he hit the other day?” and show them this:
I don’t know what’s in store for Vogelbach’s future, but it’s pretty clear it won’t be as a member of the Chicago Cubs. Hopefully, Theo Epstein and company can overcome that minor issue and get some equivalent value at a position where the Cubs have a need (lefty in the pen, cough cough). It may not be possible—sometimes a pipe is just a pipe—but you can bet the front office is thinking up every possible scenario they can for Vogelbach. His bat is just too good not to play.
Lead photo courtesy Mark J. Rebilas—USA Today Sports.