“The game power plays beneath his raw because Vogelbach’s approach to hitting is often of the Take What You’re Given variety and he’s spraying contact all over the field.”
– Eric Longenhagen
FanGraphs’ lead prospect analyst wrote those words about Dan Vogelbach for last year’s Mariners list and largely echoed them in this year’s version, as well. The appraisal is accurate: Vogelbach has never put up the kind of power numbers that his hulking physique suggests he should.
He’s looking to change that. Seven years after the Cubs drafted him in the second round out of a Fort Myers, Florida, high school — and 20 months after the Mariners acquired him in the Mike Montgomery deal — Vogelbach has decided that what’s always worked for him isn’t working well enough.
“In the past, I just tried to be a good hitter — be a good hitter first and the power would come,” Vogelbach told me while perched in front of his locker at Seattle’s spring-training facility. “This offseason, I made an adjustment to where my intent is to get the ball in the air more often.”
The numbers support the logic behind Vogelbach’s efforts. Despite logging a solid .844 OPS in Triple-A last year, his 17 home runs were underwhelming for the Pacific Coast League, and his ground-ball was a Billy Hamilton-esque 45.3%. For a player his size — the 25-year-old Vogelbach is listed at 6-foot, 250 pounds — killing worms is tantamount to killing one’s chances of getting on base.
I asked him if the launch-angle revolution was the impetus for his change of approach.
“I don’t think it’s that so much as feeling there was way more power in there that I wasn’t tapping into,” responded Vogelbach. “I needed to find out why, and from there I needed to make an adjustment. I was able to do that, and now I’m trying to get the ball in the air to center field — I’m trying to hit the ball over the center fielder’s head.”
What had been preventing him from fully tapping into his raw power?
“I wasn’t using my hips the way I was supposed to use my hips,” explained Vogelbach, whose left-handed stroke has produced 100 home runs in 2,870 professional plate appearances. “I’m using my legs totally different now. I’m really shooting my hips forward. I’m using my back leg a lot more, and a lot better, than I ever have.
“My hands also weren’t working the way they were supposed to be working. I throw righty and I hit lefty, so my top hand isn’t as dominant. I had to change that. I had to work with top-hand drills, and a one-hand bat, to get my top hand to be as dominant as my bottom hand.”
Vogelbach said his bat path is essentially the same. The only difference, according to him, is in the finish. He’s now following through, whereas he used to have a tendency to cut his swing off. As you’d expect from a player who wants to drive the ball in the air, he’s looking for backspin as opposed to topspin.
While improving his power numbers is a primary goal — “I want to slug. I want to get balls over the fence more consistently” — Vogelbach has no intention of adopting an all-or-nothing approach. He’s always been a disciplined hitters (in two Triple-A seasons, he has 173 walks and 199 strikeouts in 1,104 plate appearances), and that’s an asset he’s averse to altering.
“I’m not necessarily changing my approach at the plate,” Vogelbach said as a matter of clarification. “It’s more that I’ve changed my mechanics to where my hard singles can be doubles in the gap. I still want to be a good hitter first. But If guys make mistakes, the goal is for there to be damage as opposed to singles. With my swing the way it is now, if I’m staying through the ball, the extra-base hits and home runs are going to come more often.”
The early returns are promising. Buoyed by his tweaked mechanics and drive-the-ball-in-the-air mindset, Vogelbach is 18 for 46 this spring, with six doubles and five home runs.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.