PEORIA, Ariz. – Sometimes a cliche says it best. Fact is, Mariners first baseman Dan Vogelbach arrived this spring in, yes, the best shape of his life after an offseason spent resculpturing his beefy 6-foot frame.
And for good reason.
Vogelbach, 24, has a chance to win a big-league job for the first time in his life as he enters his seventh professional season. But he recognizes, too, that he won’t simply hit his way onto the roster.
The Mariners believe he will hit, based on his minor-league resume, but they made it clear, as Vogelbach headed into the offseason, that his defense required an upgrade.
“We’re not looking for Gold Glove defense over there,” manager Scott Servais said. “But he’s got to be major-league adequate and able to handle the plays he needs to take care of.”
Vogelbach went to work – primarily at his brother’s gym in Fort Myers, Florida.
“I really worked on mobility and, obviously, flexibility,” he said. “First-step quickness. Stuff that’s going to help me play the field better and allow me to move better all-around in the field.”
His brother, Josh, pushed him along the way and, when necessary, pushed hard.
“Obviously, being my brother, he wants the best for me,” Vogelbach said. “I can definitely feel the difference, and I feel a lot better. My body feels better. I feel like I’m moving a lot better. I feel more confident about everything.”
The process started last September when Vogelbach, acquired in a July trade from the Chicago Cubs, got a late-season promotion from Triple-A Tacoma.
“When Danny got here,” infield coach Tim Bogar recalled, “the conversation we had was, ‘We’re going back to the foundation.’ I told him in September that I’m going to talk like you’re 10, and I’m teaching you how to field a ground ball.
“We’re going to work through it until you get the feeling of how you’re supposed to catch the ball and that your feet are working the right way and your angles are the right way and your body position, posture and weight transfer are all to the point where you can feel it’s in the right spot.
“That didn’t take very long, but there was some things in there that he had never been told. To his credit, he was wide open to everything. We put together a program for him to take home for the winter, and he did it unbelievably well.”
Even in casual observation this spring, it’s clear Vogelbach is moving better.
“When you’re shifting as much as we are,” Servais said, “you like the first baseman to get away from the bag. But he can only go as far as he’s comfortable in getting back to the bag. Vogey has been awesome.”
That positioning was a problem a year ago. Neither Adam Lind nor Dae-Ho Lee were comfortable in playing far away from first base.
“Just watch when a ground ball is hit,” Servais said, “where (Vogelbach is stationed) beforehand. The minute it’s hit, he’s breaking to the bag and busting his tail to get over there. I’m happy with what he’s done there.”
Vogelbach admits his confidence is growing.
“I definitely feel I can get to balls that I couldn’t get to before,” he said. “Like bending over and going to get the ball to my glove side. Balls that I couldn’t reach out and get before, because of being inflexible, now I can go out and get that ball.”
The ability to make that play, and others like it, are precisely what the Mariners want to see over the next five weeks.
Club officials make no secret they’d like to see Vogelbach break camp as part of a platoon setup at first base with veteran Danny Valencia. But while there’s opportunity, there’s no guarantee.
“You just stay within yourself,” Vogelbach said, “and doing exactly what you’re capable of doing. And doing nothing more. I think Scott really talks about that – be who you are. That makes going out to the field every day a lot easier.
“You go out relaxed and have fun. You can’t control what’s going to happen. All you can control is what you can control – going out every day and competing, getting better and performing. That’s what I’m going to try to do every single day.”
Vogelbach got a taste last September of what comes from trying too hard. He got 12 big-league at-bats over eight games but managed just one hit. That followed 133 Triple-A games that saw him bat .292 with 23 homers and 96 RBIs.
“That’s why getting a little taste like that is important,” he said. “Now, hopefully, I can slow things down and be who I am. That means just taking my hits and, when they make a mistake, try to drive the ball into the gap.”
And making the routine defensive play.
“Where he started from and where he is (now),” Bogar said, “we don’t talk about anymore. It’s all going forward and becoming even better.”
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