The Cubs had no room for Dan Vogelbach. Hit though he may, the absence of the designated hitter in the National League was always an inhibitor for his future there, to say nothing of the wealth of young bats the Cubs have amassed at or near the major-league level. For several months, Vogelbach was an obvious potential trade candidate simply because the Cubs had nowhere to put him. Yesterday, that trade occurred: Chicago sent Vogelbach and Paul Blackburn to Seattle in exchange for Mike Montgomery and Jordan Pries.
Then a third baseman, Vogelbach won a 3-A state baseball championship in high school at Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers. He tipped the scales at close to 280 pounds at the time and was asked to shed weight early in his pro career with the Cubs. He’s now listed at 6-foot, 250 pounds. There are certainly baseball players built like Vogelbach who are still able to effectively execute all aspects of their given position. Stories about Bartolo Colon‘s athleticism or Livan Hernandez’s flexibility are common in scouting circles and it’s not impossible that someone built like Pablo Sandoval or John Kruk can maintain enough lateral agility to effectively play a corner infield spot. Vogelbach doesn’t appear to be one of those players. He’s not a good athlete and has issues with range, footwork, flexibility and throwing accuracy. He’ll make the occasional, spectacular-looking, effort-based play but hasn’t shown enough technical refinement in his five pro seasons to convince scouts he can play a position.
Because Vogelbach has always been, at best, a first-base-only prospect, scouts have spent the last five years deciding whether or not he’d hit enough to make any kind of big-league impact. In 2016, designated hitters are slashing a combined .254/.325/.464, with a .336 wOBA. Albert Pujols, Pedro Alvarez, Khris Davis and Kendrys Morales are all within a thin statistical band around that line.
Vogelbach has plus raw power but it comes at the expense both of effort and swing-and-miss when he really cuts things loose. He’ll hit some impressive blasts to his pull side and muscle some balls out the other way but, in general, 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 sprays contact all over the field. The physical tools for contact are here. Vogelbach has good bat control, hand-eye coordination, the bat speed is good and he’s shown that he can recognize ball and strikes.
The issue here has been his footwork, which would get clunky and leave Vogelbach’s weight way out on his front foot against offspeed stuff. His feel for the barrel is good enough to somewhat mask this issue, but when Vogelbach has made weak contact this has been a cause. I’ve gotten recent reports that Vogelbach has simplified (or at least altered) his footwork and is getting his front foot down earlier, which may turn out to be a beneficial adjustment for him and a possible catalyst for his uptick in statistical output this season (though, that could just be the PCL, too).
The whole package looks like it will play as a 50 hitter with 50 game power, though I think there’s more volatility here than is typical for a prospect who has hit all the way up the ladder — both because (a) so much of what Vogelbach is and does is unique and (b) because there’s some evidence that a recent adjustment might make a substantive difference. The glove, arm and speed are all comfortably below average.
The offensive profile closely mirrors that league-wide wOBA average for designated hitters: something in the .333- to .337-wOBA range is about where a .270 hitter with a solid approach and about 18-homer game power ends up. His overall contribution will be diluted by a complete lack of defensive or base-running value.
Raw Power: 60/60
Game Power: 45/50
Notes on others involved in the deal…
Paul Blackburn, RHP (CHC to SEA)
Mostly 88-92 mph, though he’s touched higher in the past. It’s a little bit straight, but he fills the strike zone with it and locates well to his arm side. Mid-70s curveball is the best secondary, 11-5 movement with solid depth, a fringe pitch now that projects to average. The arm action allows for some changeup projection but it’s unlikely to miss bats. He projects as an up and down spot starter.
Jordan Pries, RHP (SEA to CHC)
Another pitchability righty, Pries sits mostly 88-91 with a slurvy breaking ball in the 78-82 mph range that’s his primary offering both to left- and right-handed hitters. It’s about average. He’s had some release point issues of late. He’s a minor-league depth arm.
Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.