The bat flip. Let’s start with that.
Dan Vogelbach was a high school baseball player in Fort Myers, Florida, when he responded to a moon shot off his bat by hoisting it halfway to the stars. Compared with this Mother Of All Bat Flips, the playoff-game gesture that found the Blue Jays’ Jose Bautista earning the wrath of the Rangers last season was no more intimidating than Shirley Temple’s first curtsy.
There is no evidence Vogelbach’s display upset his coach at Bishop Verot High, Tom LoSauro.
“When you see Daniel coming off the bus, a lot of teams may laugh,” said LoSauro a few years ago, referring to the physique of Vogelbach — then listed at 5-foot-11 and 285 pounds. “But after they see him play his game and single-handedly beat them up, they’ll bow to him when he gets back on the bus.”
The Mariners acquired Vogelbach in a deal announced midway through their 6-5, 11-inning victory Wednesday over the White Sox. It was an afternoon that took a lot of turns, beginning with Felix Hernandez’s struggle to adjust to the postage-stamp-sized strike zone of home plate umpire Andy Fletcher.
Several hours later, general manager Jerry Dipoto was telling a gathering of reporters about the trade with the Cubs. Its principal names were left-handed spot-starter/long-reliever Mike Montgomery and Vogelbach, a left-handed-hitting first baseman.
“He rakes,” Dipoto said of the 23-year-old prospect. “He rakes everywhere he’s been. He’s an elite strike-controller who has absolutely tormented right-handed pitching, especially this year in the PCL — he’s among the PCL leaders in just about every offensive category.
“He gets on base. He hits homers, and he’s got a little bit of personality to him, which wasn’t down on our list of attractive elements about him. He plays with a certain uniqueness. He’s fun.”
The Cubs considered Vogelbach expendable because, for one, he was a first baseman in an organization that sees first base as the least of its worries, thanks to All-Star Anthony Rizzo. Because there’s no designated hitter during National League games, Vogelbach — a second-round selection in the 2011 draft — had nothing to offer the Cubs but a big-time bat on a team full of them.
“We feel he has a chance to be a real impact player in the middle of the order,” Dipoto continued. “Whether that starts next week, next month, sometime in September or in 2017 has yet to be determined.
“He’s ready to play in the big leagues today. Whether he fits on our roster is another matter.”
The plan is for Vogelbach to report to the Rainiers, where he’ll share time with the right-handed-hitting D.J. Peterson. Each will start, alternating between first base and DH.
Scouting reports on Vogelbach’s defense suggest he is prone to believe the pregame public-address announcement prohibiting the interference of balls in play actually applies to him. But Mariners scouts who’ve been taking notes on Vogelbach for the past few weeks gave Dipoto positive reports.
“We believe he can play first base,” said Dipoto. “We don’t see him as the next generation of Keith Hernandez or Don Mattingly, but he’s worked really hard on his defense. Besides, right now we’re in the business of being surprised by first-base defense, like we’ve been this year.”
Dipoto was talking about the unanticipated coordination of Dae-Ho Lee rather than veteran platoon partner Adam Lind, who hit his 15th home run of the season on a day the trade made his future a bit more cloudy. There’s little chance he’ll stay in Seattle when his contract expires in October, and it’s possible he’ll be dealt before then.
As for Montgomery, his trade value never will be higher, but he’s more valuable to the Cubs — a team screaming for the versatility of a lefty reliever who can start — than the Mariners, who soon will replace Montgomery in the rotation when Taijuan Walker returns from the disabled list.
My hunch is that this deal is favorable to both clubs and should not be misinterpreted as a signal the Mariners have given up on their playoff chances to stock up on prospects. Dipoto, remember, believes Vogelbach to be “major league ready.”
His bat flip certainly is.