Vogelbach decided to embrace being a power hitter, changing his hand placement to increase the launch angle on balls off the bat.
PEORIA, Ariz. — Back before he put his Instagram on private mode — which is a wise thing do for any person, but particularly professional athletes — and before he deleted the post all together, Daniel Vogelbach posted a video to his account in late January.
In it, Vogelbach was being videoed on a random and beat up field somewhere near his South Florida home. Under some dim lights on jet black night and dripping with sweat from the obvious shirt-sticking humidity, Vogelbach pasted a few baseballs deep into the night. Whoever was filming him, never showed how far the ball traveled. But given the sound, the upper cut on the swing and the initial blur of the ball leaving the bat, it was safe to assume that the ball traveled a decent distance.
The caption on the video said — “Sometimes you just gotta make a change.”
It wasn’t as quite as cryptic as a teenager’s Facebook post of “so over it” or more recently Twitter posts from NFL players like the Seahawks secondary when it comes to roster moves.
But it did lead to a fair amount of speculation and curiosity from diehard fans, who saw it, as to what it meant.
Well about two months later, there is an answer … sort of. It was mostly about making changes to his swing, but also his approach, his attitude … everything.
“It was time,” he said. “I definitely made some adjustments in the offseason that I really hadn’t been willing to make — adjustments to my swing.”
The changes aren’t excessively dramatic. At first glance, they aren’t completely noticeable unless you are looking for them.
“I lowered my hands and got in a better power position to drive the ball. It was definitely a process,” he said. “But it was something that needed to be done for me to start driving the ball in the gaps and hitting for more extra basehits. It’s something that I took upon myself to do and do it before spring.”
The idea didn’t come out of nowhere. The vogue thing in baseball is increased launch angles and hitting the ball with backspin in the air. A player like Vogelbach, who is neither fast nor particularly athletic, but does possess raw, brute strength, would benefit from that mindset and swing.
“It’s a credit to him, manager Scott Servais. “He made the adjustments on his own. We had talked to him throughout the course of the year last season about trying some different things. But it’s hard. He’s been a very successful minor league hitter in his past. Offseason is the time to make changes. He’s doing some different things with his set up at the plate.”
After a frustrating 2017 season where he lost his spot on the opening day roster in spring and then never really found his way back on a full time basis, Vogelbach and Servais have talked often this spring about the need for the young first baseman to be himself — outgoing, loose and happy.
Still, there needed to be physical to go with the mental. And so far it’s yielded results, Vogelbach is hitting .400 (18 for 45) with a .518 on-base percentage, an .867 slugging percentage, six doubles, five homers, 10 walks and 11 RBIs.
“In damage counts and when pitchers make mistakes, those pitches need to be extra base hits and hit hard and driven instead of singles the other way,” he said.
Vogelbach’s change to an increased launch angle is different than teammate Mitch Haniger, who made the adjustment a few years ago. Haniger uses advance technology to measure the angle of each swing and ball hit during the offseason and into the season. Vogelbach doesn’t nerd out to that stuff.
“I’m more of a feel guy,” he said. “I talk to Mitch a lot about hitting, but I’m more of a feel guy. I can feel when my hands are in the right spot and I’m staying through the ball. It’s more of a feel.”
And he felt it that night in January when he first made the conscious effort to do so.
“I was getting the ball in the air more right away,” he said. “It was definitely something I needed to do.”
With the swing change and emphasis on putting the ball in the air, Vogelbach also re-evaluated his approach and mentality at the plate. Blessed with a discernible eye to spit on pitches out of the zone that many players would pay to have, he admitted that it worked against him at times. He was too selective. Even on 2-0, 2-1 and 3-1 counts, he was waiting for a perfect pitch to hit that would never come and let good pitches go by.
“I need to be aggressive,” he said. “I think when I am passive that’s when I take pitches that I should drive. I need to be ready to hit from the first pitch. I do take the pitches that aren’t good to hit. It’s just me doing things to have a hitter’s mentality the entire at-bat.”
A perfect example was facing Texas lefty Matt Moore last week. After striking out looking in his first at-bat, Vogelbach came back in his second at-bat, worked a 2-0 count and got a 2-0 fastball that he ambushed, pulling it over the wall in right.
A year ago in a that failed spring where he was uncertain and afraid to fail, he might have let that pitch go by in search for a better one.
“He’s going after it,” Servais said. “There’s some pitches that were in certain parts of the plate that maybe he would just serve into left field. I saw him get on the ball the other day that he actually got out and around the ball on and pulled it into the right-center field gap. I like that approach little bit better. I think better things will happen. You have more going for you when you are in that aggressive mode vs. just trying to fit into spots out on the field.”
Going into this spring, Vogelbach seemed to be passed by on the organizational depth chart. The Mariners went out and traded for first baseman Ryon Healy in the offseason and made it clear he would be the everyday first baseman. They also selected Mike Ford in the Rule 5 draft in December. Vogelbach was drifting into an afterthought. Instead, he has forced the Mariners to re-think the situation. Healy’s hand surgery just before the start of spring training also aided the opportunity with extended playing time. Vogelbach hit early and kept going, earning more reps.
“Vogey’s had a great spring,” Servais said. “Ryon Healy, I think is going to be healthy enough to be okay and be ready to go. When we acquired Healy, we acquired him to be our every day first baseman. That’s the plan if he’s healthy and able to go. That’s taking nothing away from Daniel Vogelbach and what he’s done. He’s done exactly what he needed to do. He looks like a different guy. He’s handled everything really well. He’s loose. He’s relaxed. He’s playing. He’s kind of the Daniel Vogelbach we thought we acquired a couple years ago.”
With the Mariners not needing a fifth starter to start the season, they could carry both Healy and Vogelbach on the roster and use them in a semi-platoon situation. When that fifth starter is needed, they will have to make a decision on who will stay. The complications of carrying Ichiro on the roster give them few other options.
“We’ll see,” Servais said. “With the off days we have early, there’s been some discussion about starting with just 12 pitches and carrying 13 positions players. But we’ll see how it breaks out in the end. We have a few decisions yet to make.”