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Look, we’re kinda getting down to the bottom of the barrel a little bit in these “very important” Mariners. I get that. I’m just trying to get through the month with a little content on the ol’ website before Spring Training gets going in earnest.
I’ll dive into this one by saying that I’m a little concerned about first base. First base and the outfield in general has been a problem dating back to 2008 and it’s never REALLY been solved. This year, instead of half-assing it, we went full throttle on defense to bolster our outfield, probably to the detriment of our hitting from that neck of the woods. I’m predicting the 8th and 9th spots in the lineup will regularly go to two of our three outfield spots, and for once I’m okay with it.
First base has been a different kind of black hole entirely. Dating back to 2008, when Richie Sexson totally bottomed out and became one of my most-loathed players of all time, look at who we’ve been running out there: Bryan LaHair, Russell Branyan, Casey Kotchman, Justin Smoak, Logan Morrison, Jesus Montero, Adam Lind, and Dae-ho Lee, to name but a few. Any one of those guys, if they were even REMOTELY worth a damn, could’ve taken the Mariners’ first baseman job and ran with it. Instead, we’re onto the next one, and in this case it’s some combo of Dan Vogelbach and Danny Valencia (at least to start off the season).
Dan Vogelbach is the main prize we got in the Mike Montgomery trade last summer with the Cubs. He came over here as a big power hitter from the left side who has had a lot of success in the upper minors (was a rookie in 2011, climbed the ranks through A-ball, reached AA in 2015 and AAA in 2016). He slashed .272/.403/.425 in AA and .292/.417/.505 in AAA. Finally, in September of last year, he got his first cup of coffee in the Majors and picked up his first Big League hit, but otherwise did absolutely nothing. For what it’s worth, he could’ve batted 1.000 in 12 at-bats in Seattle last year and I’d feel the same exact way about him, because it’s 12 at-bats. There’s nothing to learn about anyone’s September call-up, ever. We’ve seen guys come up and be amazing, only to revert back to nothing the next year; just as we’ve seen guys struggle in their first call-ups while eventually sticking in the Majors at some point in the future.
All that having been said, I feel like the majority of Mariners fans out there would rather have Mike Montgomery right now, but that’s neither here nor there.
Vogelbach is also a guy who came here without a position. I mean, yeah, he’s played first base all through the minors, but he’s not really a defensive wunderkind. So, not only does the kid have to prove his worth in Spring Training just to make the Opening Day roster, but he’s got to figure out how to hit Major League pitching, AND he’s got to be good-enough defensively to not be a total liability. That’s A LOT to expect out of someone, especially as a rookie!
I don’t know about you, but I like my baseball rookies to have at least one aspect of their game already figured out by the time they reach the Majors. Usually, that means you’re getting a great defensive talent who will hopefully adjust and eventually learn to hit. Those guys, at least, know they have the defensive part down, so all they have on their plates is needing to hit (oh, is that all?). But, if a guy has to come up, learn how to hit, AND learn how to play defense better, the odds of him struggling are greatly increased.
My point is: I don’t see any way that Vogelbach has a good season in 2017. The hope is that he’s such a natural at hitting that he’ll come up here and start mashing from Day One, but I’ve been burned on that pipe dream too many times. Our most-realistic best-case scenario is that he at the very least has a good eye for balls and strikes and is able to walk his way to a respectable on-base percentage, while providing 15-20 homers near the bottom of our lineup as he gives Valencia the occasional off-day.
I think the most-realistic realistic-case scenario is that he stinks. I understand the idea is to have a Vogelbach/Valencia platoon, and it would stand to reason that by being the left-handed hitter, Vogelbach would get 2/3 of the starts at first base. But, I think that script will get flipped pretty early on in the year. I think a terrible April out of Vogelbach will render him little more than a bench player (unless they opt to send him to Tacoma to work it out on an everyday basis), and Valencia ends up with the lion’s share of starts at first base.
I hope I’m wrong, but I think you’re going to run into any number of articles around mid-season clamoring for another left-handed bat who can play first base with Valencia.
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