Seattle Mariners manager Scott Servais had an interesting response to what the future might hold for first baseman Daniel Vogelbach.
Vogelbach has dominated Triple-A pitching with the Tacoma Rainiers the past three seasons, including a .290 average, .434 on-base percentage (he walks a lot) and a .979 OPS this year. He was listed among Baseball America’s recent Triple-A All-Star team for the season.
But in the big leagues? Some say he hasn’t had enough consistent opportunities, others would say he hasn’t done enough with the opportunities he’s had.
Vogelbach did launch a towering, tying two-run home run in Anaheim on Sunday in his first start since he was among the Mariners’ September call ups, with their roster expanding to 40 players on Sept. 1.
Oh, and then Vobelbach followed it up with the go-ahead, pinch-hit grand slam in the eighth inning of Monday’s 4-1 win over the Astros.
But his future with the Mariners remains in flux, especially with the offseason acquisition of Ryon Healy, Robinson Cano’s transition to more time at first base and the Mariners indicating they’re going to fight to bring designated hitter Nelson Cruz back once his contract expires at the end of the season.
So, where does that leave Vogelbach?
Servais spoke to reporters about that in Houston on Monday afternoon.
“He needs to get the opportunities, as much as anything, and find the right spot where he can get that opportunity and run with it,” Servais said. “I say opportunity, and what is that? .... Is it a couple 100 at-bats? Is it 500 at-bats? Is it 1,000 at-bats?
“Not many guys get 1,000 at-bats to figure it out, so it needs to happen when he does get the opportunities.”
Entering Monday, Vogelbach had a .198 MLB batting average in 111 career at-bats over three seasons with the Mariners. He’s hit three home runs, all in 28 games this season.
Keep in mind, those 28 games have been spread over five trips up and down from Seattle to Tacoma. He’s put a lot of miles along I-5 this year.
He did hit .407 average in 22 games and a 1.455 OPS with seven home runs this spring, giving a glimpse of what he could with regular at-bats. He began the season on the Mariners roster, but he ended up sitting for most of that span because of that aforementioned positional log jam.
Servais admitted – Vogelbach needs opportunity.
“Being in a situation where somebody commits just 350-400 at-bats in a season to him and see what you got at the end of the day, that’s probably what he needs,” Servais said. “Is that what he’s going to get? I don’t know. You got to be in the right place at the right time for that to happen. But he’s certainly produced at the Triple-A level, no question about it.
“He needs to get the opportunities, and then take advantage of it when it’s there.”
But, reading between the lines there, those opportunities might not be available in Seattle, especially if the Mariners re-sign Cruz.
Vogelbach’s problem is a lack of versatility. So few teams can get away with a Nelson Cruz-type who is limited to DH. His defensive abilities have improved at first base, but he doesn’t offer plus capabilities there like Healy does, or even Cano could. And Healy adds an ability to play third base in pinch, and Cano has played first and third and second.
“(Sunday) was a good matchup for him,” Servais said of Vogelbach against the Angels, with Nelson Cruz out with an illness. “He smoked that one ball pretty good. You’ll see him in there with some pinch-hit opportunities. But Nelson has been our guy and you want to give those guys the time to do their thing out there.
“But if the opportunity arises and it’s a good matchup, absolutely.”
How about that opportunity Monday night, though?
Vogelbach saw a 1-1 high fastball, coming 98-mph his way from Astros right-hander Hector Rondon, and the 25-year-old from Fort Myers, Florida, launched it over the wall in right-center for his first big-league grand slam.
“I’m pretty competitive and I want to win,” Vogelbach said afterward. “I want to be in that spot 10 times out of 10 times. Whether I fail or succeed I want to be the guy up there. I’m just thankful Skip gave me the opportunity.”
And that’s just what Servais had talked about in what had been holding Vogelbach back in the big leagues. His on-base percentage is so astronomical because he’s so patient, and he can be in Triple-A when pitchers are throwing around him.
Not in the big leagues.
“I learned really quickly that they don’t really care up here what you’ve done down there,” Vogelbach said. “They are going to attack you until you prove that you can hit. It’s all a lot of lessons I’ve learned as I’ve kept going and it’s about staying aggressive and staying on the fastball and reacting to other things.”
But all that success in Triple-A, only to be continually sent back there — not just with the Mariners, but when he was with the Cubs, too. It would be difficult not to grow frustratingly impatient.
But he was honest about his place talking in the Mariners visiting clubhouse with reporters shortly after that grand slam.
“All I can do is continue to perform and put up numbers where I am placed because the minute you fall down, you’re not good enough,” Vogelbach said. “So I got to continue to put up numbers and continue to be the guy I am and wherever I go, just help the team win.
“You obviously get down or you have your days you’re not happy about, but that’s stuff you can’t control. But if I have a week or two when I don’t perform, then they are right by sending me down. You need to go and perform and perform.”
Left-hander James Paxton was back with the Mariners when they arrived in Houston on Monday, but it’s unclear when he’ll make his next start.
There’s a slot open for Wednesday, but Servais said it is unlikely Paxton will be ready by then coming off of a bout of influenza and pneumonia that kept him from traveling to Anaheim.
“Certainly coming off being sick for a while and pneumonia, I don’t expect him to come in here and do backflips,” Servais said. “But once he plays catch here we’ll get a better feel for where he’s at.”
Servais said it’s more likely they got with either left-hander Roenis Elias, right-hander Casey Lawrence or an “opener” out of the bullpen to start Wednesday’s series finale against the Astros.
Silver Slugger watch
Three Mariners players were on the watch list for American League Silver Slugger awards for best hitters at their positions – Jean Segura at shortstop, Mitch Haniger as an outfielder and Cruz at DH.
All have plenty of competition for those spots.
Segura would have to overtake the Indians’ Francisco Lindor, most notably. Segura leads all AL shortstops in batting average (.308), but Lindor has the most hits (172), home runs (35), and best OPS (.880).
At DH,Cruz is up against the Red Sox’s J.D. Martinez, among others. Cruz has 36 home runs, a .265 average and is tied for the fifth-best OPS in the AL. Martinez is third with a 1.026 OPS and is second behind the Athletics’ Khris Davis with 41 home runs.
Haniger is up against the likes of the Angels’ Mike Trout, Red Sox’s Mookie Betts, the A’s Davis and others for three outfield spots in the AL. He entered Monday with the fourth-best OPS among AL outfielders (.856) behind those aforementioned three players.
Haniger has hit 25 home runs and is batting .282 with a .363 on-base percentage.
Right-hander Mike Leake (10-9, 3.99 ERA) starts for the Mariners at 5:10 p.m. Tuesday at Minute Maid Park in Houston against right-hander Josh James (0-0, 4.22 ERA), who was announced as the starter over previously scheduled Gerrit Cole.
The game will broadcast on Root Sports and 710-AM radio.