The burly first baseman, who was surprised to be sent down shortly before the end of spring training, is still working on making his defense major league ready.
After Daniel Vogelbach spent the offseason in Fort Myers, Fla., with his older brother — a strength and conditioning specialist who owns a gym — he felt prepared for the big leagues.
At one point, members of the Mariners’ staff came down to Florida, and they were impressed, Vogelbach’s brother, Josh, said. The 250-pound first baseman, who had played mostly in the minors since 2011, was improving.
“I truly thought he was ready,” Josh Vogelbach said. “I still think he is.”
Vogelbach played eight games with the Mariners at the end of the 2016 season, and a long-term role seemed imminent. Vogelbach was poised to be the left-handed hitter in a first-base platoon with Danny Valencia, at least at the beginning of spring training.
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Eleven days before the Mariners’ season opener against the Astros, Vogelbach was optioned to Class AAA Tacoma, where he’s been the entire season apart from seven games with the Mariners.
“There’s some things you can control, and when I get called up isn’t one of them,” Vogelbach said.
With Tacoma, Vogelbach has a batting average of .280 and has hit 10 home runs. He made it to the final round of the Triple-A Home Run Derby on Monday and was one of two Rainiers on the roster of the Pacific Coast League, which defeated the International League 6-4 in the Class AAA All-Star Game at Cheney Stadium on Wednesday night.
Vogelbach finished the day 0 for 1 while Tacoma’s Jean Machi, a 35-year-old reliever, gave up two runs (one earned) in one inning and struck out two.
While he’s improved on defense, Vogelbach said that’s a spot where he needs to continue to get better. During the offseason with his brother, he worked on his lateral movement, mobility and flexibility.
Even though the All-Star break didn’t serve as much of a rest period for the ones who played, Vogelbach said this symbolic halfway point is a chance for him to sit down and pinpoint where he still needs to improve.
“He could go hit in the big leagues right now,” Vogelbach’s brother said. “He’s just got to continue to work on his fielding, continue to get better.”
Still, the reality is that he’ll need to be proficient in both areas if he wants to play in the big leagues.
For some, this game can be a positive sign that they are progressing or moving in the right direction. But Vogelbach said for him it’s just a fun experience. Besides, that’s when he’s at his best. If he’s playing as if he’s in his backyard, “things come easy,” Vogelbach said.
Around him on the field were players who Vogelbach said he’s moved through the minor league system with. He has played against Nashville’s Renato Nunez, who’s also on the PCL roster, since the two were in Low A.
Since Vogelbach’s major-league debut in 2016, he’s played 15 games with the Mariners. Even though moving up and down between teams is part of the game, the move down to the Rainiers still “caught (Vogelbach) off guard a little bit,” his brother said.
As for the plan for the upcoming offseason, Vogelbach certainly doesn’t need to work harder, his brother said.
“And I’m not just saying that as his brother; I’m saying that as a trainer,” Josh Vogelbach said. “We’re going to continue doing what we’re doing.”
They seem confident that Vogelbach will get his chance. Vogelbach has thought about hitting his first home run in the major leagues. Surely, it’ll be exciting at first, he said, but he also anticipates a day where hitting home runs in major-league ballparks becomes normal, just like the ones he’s hit with the Rainiers.