Just think if Daniel Vogelbach had this kind of spring last year.
His competition for the starting first base job with Danny Valencia wouldn’t have been cut so short – with almost two weeks remaining in spring training when he was optioned to Triple-A Tacoma.
Vogelbach hit .228/.313/.333 last spring, including a 1-for-24 slump with the Mariners citing too many adjustments he had to make at the plate and at first base to justify them including him on the big league club.
Now? He’s hitting .383/.500/.830 in 19 games this spring. Granted, it’s spring and good spring numbers don’t always mean good regular-season numbers and bad spring numbers don’t always mean bad regular-season ones.
But it’s also how he’s hitting that has impressed. And maybe that means a spot on the Mariners’ Opening Day roster.
“He’s got a lot of confidence right now,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said recently. He’s handling his at-bats, he’s using the whole ballpark, he’s hit the ball hard. He’s really from the start of spring to now as consistent as anybody we’ve had.”
As we project the Mariners’ 25-man Opening Day roster (beginning yesterday with the outfield) we’ll start with first base.
If Vogelbach makes it, and that’s still a big if, it wouldn’t be as their Opening Day starter against the Indians on Thursday at Safeco Field. That would be their offseason acquisition Ryon Healy, who hit 25 home runs last year for the Athletics.
And at some point the math doesn’t add up. The Mariners have indicated most of the offseason that they’ll keep 13 pitchers and 12 position players on the roster. So with the nine regular position players, the Mariners would have three must-haves to go with that – a backup catcher (likely Mike Marjima), a fourth outfielder (Guillermo Heredia) and a utility player (Andrew Romine or Taylor Motter).
So there’s just no room in that scenario for two first basemen.
But to start the season, sure. The Mariners have three off days in the first eight days of the season and general manager Jerry Dipoto said Wednesday that they’ll keep just four starting pitchers until adding a fifth on April 11 – to go with their eight pitchers in the bullpen.
So with 12 pitchers, that gives the Mariners the option of keeping either Vogelbach or go with two utility players, meaning they keep both Romine and Motter.
“We’ll just have to wait and see,” Servais said Thursday. “We’ll make the decision there on Saturday. But I’m really excited to see Ryon Healy back (from wrist surgery). He looks healthy. The ball is coming off his bat great and he’s very comfortable at first base and Voggy has had a really great spring. We just have to wait and see. We’ll make that call on Saturday.”
As I’ve done all of this roster-projection series, I enlisted the help of recently retired New Tribune Mariners reporter Bob Dutton, who had spent more than three decades covering baseball before retiring at the end of 2017.
It’s hard to keep Vogelbach on the roster if Healy is their guy. Vogelbach needs to play somewhere. Healy and Vogelbach give you right-left platoon options, but it seems clear Vogelbach wouldn’t be able to stay on the roster past April 11, anyway.
And it’s hard to judge early spring numbers because usually that’s when pitchers are working on getting fastball command. So pitchers are straighter. But later in spring is when they starting working in breaking pitches.
Vogelbach needs at-bats. Motter doesn’t. He can play every position and do so pretty well and that gives the Mariners all kinds of flexibility if they open with he and Romine. Romine played all nine positions in one game for the Tigers last season.
“Is Vogelbach going to play?” Dutton said. “You could platoon, but that takes away from Ryon Healy. I would be surprised if they platoon there. I think they want Vogelbach to play.”
This will probably come back to bite me, but I’ll say why not reward Vogelbach for doing what seems like everything the Mariners could ask for this spring? Especially while Healy is still working his way back into the Cactus League lineup.
Sure, it would be a temporary stay in the big leagues, but it would give Vogelbach the opportunity to gain some confidence before heading to Tacoma to scratch and claw until he works his way back.
So here’s how that would look:
2017: 124 games, .251/.331..509, 25 HRs, 25 2Bs, 64 RBI
2018 spring training (through March 21): 14 games, .389/.463/.833, 5 HRs
2017: 5 games, 3-for-9 (.333), 2B, HR; Triple-A: 93 games, .249/.320/.422, 12 HRs (Triple-A All-Star)
2018 spring training (through March 21): 17 games, 11-for-36 (.306/.405/.583), 2 HRs, 4 2Bs
1B Ryon Healy
2017 (Athletics): 149 games, .271/.302/.451, 25 HRs, 29 2Bs, 78 RBIs
2018 spring training (through March 21): 4 games, 4-for-9 (.222/.250/.333)
2B Robinson Cano
2017: 150 games, .280/.338/.453, 23 HRs, 33 2Bs, 97 RBIs (All-Star)
2018 spring training (through March 21): 10 games, 10-for-25 (.400/.464/.600), HR
SS Jean Segura
2017: 125 games, .300/.349/.427, 11 HRs, 30 2Bs, 80 R
2018 spring training (through March 21): 13 games, 14-for-33 (.424/.487/.727), 2 HR
3B Kyle Seager
2017: 154 games, .263/.332/.447, 27 HRs, 33 2Bs, 88 RBIs
2018 spring training (through March 21): 15 games, 12-for-41 (.293/.370/.463), HR
UTIL Andrew Romine
2017 (Tigers): 124 games, .233/.289/.336, 4 HRs, 17 2Bs
2018 spring training (through March 21): 15 games, 10-for-38 (.263/.300/.368), HR
1B Daniel Vogelbach
2017: 16 games, 6-for-28 (.214/.290/.250); Triple-A: 125 games, .290/.388/.455 (Triple-A All-Star)
2018 spring training (through March 21): 19 games, 18-for-47 (.388/.500/.830), 5 HRs, 6 2Bs
2017: 155 games, .288/.375/.549, 39 HRs, 28 2Bs, 119 RBIs (All-Star, Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award)
2018 spring training (through March 21): 9 games, 3-for-19 (.158/.360/.316), HR
Some notes about the position groups outside of first base and utility:
For one, they are far more cemented. Mike Marjama, a 28-year-old rookie and offseason substitute teacher, has been all but officially notified he’s the backup catcher to Mike Zunino.
Heart-of-the order guys Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz are battling back from hamstring and quad injuries, respectively, but they should be ready for Opening Day. Jean Segura is returning from a sprained thumb, but he should also be ready to go and make for a formidable, and fast, top of the order batting second behind Dee Gordon.
And Kyle Seager has been among the spring training bright spots.
TNT PICK TO CLICK
Signs point to Mike Zunino having figured it out at the plate like he did after his return from Triple-A Tacoma and a torrid June when he hit .304 with 10 home runs and 31 RBIs (the most of any player in the major leagues). He had the third highest WAR (wins above replacement) according to Fangraphs among catchers all of last season behind the Giants; Buster Posey and the Yankees’ Gary Sanchez – and both of them were All-Stars.
This certainly has a chance to go the other way. He’s strikeout prone and streaky so far in his big league career. But he’s as solidified in this lineup now as he’s ever been.
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
PROJECTED MARINERS OPENING DAY ROSTER
Looking at what the Mariners could roll out with on Opening Day for their 25-man roster. Here’s what we’re projecting so far:
Dee Gordon (CF)
Mitch Haniger (RF)
Ichiro Suzuki (LF)
Guillermo Heredia (OF)
Ryon Healy (1B)
Robinson Cano (2B)
Jean Segura (SS)
Kyle Seager (3B)
Andrew Romine (UTL)
Daniel Vogelbach (1B)
Coming Saturday: Starting rotation/bullpen
COUNTDOWN TO OPENING DAY: 6 DAYS
Here is the schedule for the rest of spring training up to the opening day, when the Mariners host the Indians at 7:10 p.m., March 29, at Safeco Field.
Friday: At Chicago White Sox (1:05 p.m., Glendale)
Saturday: vs. Chicago Cubs (6:40 p.m., Peoria)
Sunday: vs. San Diego Padres (12:10 p.m. at Peoria)
Monday: Off day
Tuesday: at Colorado Rockies (1:10 p.m. at Talking Stick)
Wednesday: Off day
March 29: Mariners open season against Indians at Safeco Field (7:10 p.m.)
April 5: Tacoma Rainiers open Triple-A season at Cheney Stadium (7:05 p.m.)