Daniel Vogelbach’s locker is tucked in a corner of the Seattle Mariners’ clubhouse, but he doesn’t usually sit in front of it long.
He walks around engaging his teammates before games, often smiling and joking with them, and displays a confidence he hasn’t showed during previous stints in the majors.
“The more you play, the more opportunity you get, the more confidence you get,” Vogelbach said. “I’ve always thought that I belonged up here — but thinking it and doing it are two different things.”
He is no longer waiting in the shadows. He’s not shuttling back and forth between Seattle and Triple-A Tacoma, as he did the past three seasons since his first major-league call-up in 2016.
Vogelbach’s recent inclusion in Seattle’s lineup, on nearly a daily basis and primarily as a designated hitter, is a result of him doing what he’s always done in baseball — hit for power and get on base.
“He’s getting on a little bit of a run here,” Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager said. “He’s making it really hard to keep him out of the lineup.”
Entering Friday’s game, Vogelbach is slashing at .356/.483/.844, leading the Mariners in all three of those categories among players who have appeared in more than five games.
His slugging percentage and 1.327 OPS were leading the American League among players with at least 45 at-bats. His on-base percentage, bolstered by 11 walks and 16 hits — including six home runs — ranked third in the AL.
Those numbers are in line with Vogelbach’s production at most of his stops in the minors.
“He’s always hit,” former Rainiers manager Pat Listach said. “And he knew he was going to have to hit to stay in the big leagues. And, to be honest, this was his first real chance.”
During Vogelbach’s three seasons in Triple-A with Iowa and Tacoma, he slashed at .291/.411/.496, and consistently flashed power with 60 home runs in 342 games.
Listach said Vogelbach’s ability to consistently reach base is what originally appealed to the Mariners when general manager Jerry Dipoto traded for him midway through 2016.
“Jerry is obviously an on-base guy, and Daniel is that type of player,” Listach said. “He’s always on base. He’s walked a lot, and he’s always hit. It fits into what Jerry likes to do up there. … I think his philosophy is, the more traffic you have on base, the more runs you score. He fits the mold.”
Vogelbach has had a strong month. He hit his first home run of the season — the decisive run in an April 2 win over the Angels — and kept on hitting. He had his first career multi-homer game in a win over the Chicago White Sox on April 7.
Thursday night, he reached base in each of his five of his plate appearances (two hits, three walks) for the first time in a Mariners uniform.
Vogelbach said his ability to choose good pitches, and work deep counts, has contributed to his success.
“That’s something I’ve kind of done my whole career,” he said. “Trying to be picky and patient at the plate, and get a pitch that I can drive, get a pitch that I can do some damage with.
“And then when I get to two strikes, really try to battle and foul tough pitches off, and work my way into a pitch that I can handle.”
Listach said Vogelbach’s eye at the plate is so refined that he rarely chases balls outside of the strike zone.
“Every year I’ve gotten better at it, over time and with more reps,” Vogelbach said. “As the pitching gets better, you have to make more adjustments.
“But, I think the biggest thing is just trusting yourself, and not wavering or veering away from who you are as a hitter, and staying true to that.”
Vogelbach’s approach at the plate reminds Listach of former major league slugger Jason Giambi, who knocked 440 career homers and had a .399 career on-base percentage, which ranks 60th all-time.
Like Giambi, Vogelbach has both patience and power.
“Not a lot of guys have both,” Listach said “Most really good hitters in baseball, the power comes later in their career, but Daniel’s always had it. He’s had the power and the patience at such an early age.”
And, this season with the Mariners, Vogebach has been given a consistent opportunity to contribute, which Listach says has made the biggest difference.
Vogelbach was out of minor league options this spring, and the biggest question looming was about how the Mariners would use him.
Mariners manager Scott Servais said the plan was to try to get Vogelbach 300 to 350 at-bats this season, but he didn’t know then when the at-bats would come.
Vogelbach has produced at every turn early on. In about half as many plate appearances this season, he’s matched or cleared what he totaled on offense in 2018.
And, as his bat has become louder, so has his presence in the Mariners’ clubhouse.
“His first call-up a couple of years ago, I talked to him a little bit about it,” Listach said. “He was not being Daniel Vogelbach. He was afraid. He wasn’t sure if he belonged there.”
Part of Vogelbach’s success has come from being who he is around his teammates, Listach said.
“Hey man, you’ve got to be yourself,” Listach told Vogelbach after the call-up. “You can’t go up there and be the quiet guy on the team.”
“I’m a young guy, I’m a rookie,” Vogelbach replied.
“So what? Just be who you are,” Listach said. “They would love you for it. You’ve got a great personality.”
This season, Vogelbach said a boost in confidence has helped him make a successful jump to the majors.
“The people around in this clubhouse make it easier, too,” he said. “We have fun every time we come to the field. I feel like everybody belongs, and everybody is just as important as the person next to them.
“Just becoming closer as a team really helps individuals. I think that’s a big step (in) my progress.”