2012 Season Preview: Vogt Early, Vogt Often?

March 7, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays catcher Stephen Vogt (26) hits a single in the fourth inning during spring training against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

h/t to Sandy Kazmir Brickhaus for the title

What Jose Molina's addition to the roster could mean for the Rays has been pretty well covered. Despite the good news with what his defensive abilities could mean to the team, there is a limit as to how often he will be contributing. Earlier this spring, Joe Maddon made the following statement about Molina's projected playing time:

Maddon said a "legit number" of starts would be 80-90, with the idea Molina could be a defensive replacement in other games, with an eye toward maximizing the matchups offensively and defensively.

With that in mind, one of the burning questions of the off-season is how will the Rays staff the other 72-82 games this season when Maddon fills out the line-up card. Last season, Jose Lobation and Robinson Chirinos both had that honor a handful of times but both had their faults. Lobaton looked overmatched at the plate in limited playing time while Chirinos looked less than impressive both at and behind the plate.

Trading John Jaso away to Seattle eliminated experienced depth on the 40-man roster behind Molina and the recent pickup of minor league free-agent of Chris Gimenez gave the Rays yet another option for the second catcher role but one with just 267 plate appearances in his major league career and a .551 career OPS in that time.

If you were to ask most analysts and fans where their biggest concern is for the 2012 season, some would look at the shortstop battle between Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac but many would point at the catching position and the lack of experience behind Molina that would be exposed with an injury. That lack of experience is now a four-man pool of players as Stephen Vogt has entered the fray as he, Chirinos, Gimenez, and Lobaton battle it out for one of the very few roster spots in contention this spring.

As Maddon told the Tampa Bay Times yesterday:

Vogt..... is "among the contending group" for the second catcher spot. "We've done awkward things in the past, so we're not afraid of doing something like that," Maddon said. "I told him in the meeting, he's playing for this job."

Background:

Vogt came into the fold when he was added to the 40-man roster this past off-season coming off a season in which he was named the organizational minor league player of the year. In five seasons of minor league baseball, he has hit .305/.362/.453 in 1736 plate appearances with all but 131 of them coming below Triple-A. Vogt has played 103 games at catcher, 202 games in the outfield, and 52 at first base. He also did all of this as one of the older players at each one of of his levels a serious 2009 shoulder injury ended that season just after it got started and put him back in the Florida State League as a 25 year old where he led the league in batting average at .345.

Metrics (in advanced leagues):

LEVEL AB BA OBP SLG wOBA wOBA+ K% BB% ISO BABIP
A+ 367 .346 .397 .512 .385 121 11% 8% .166 .380
AA 386 .301 .344 .487 .350 109 12% 7% .186 .320
AAA 131 .298 .313 .524 .350 110 22% 3% .226 .363

Overall, Vogt has handled both lefties and righties in his minor league career as his slash line at his last three stops is .302/.345/.484 against lefties and .323/.371/.507 against righties. It is worth noting that his success against left-handed pitching has decreased in the upper levels as Vogt's slash line is .267/.310/.418 against lefties in 146 at bats since leaving High-A ball. The sharp spikes in his walk and strikeout rates at Durham are concerning, but also from a small sample size and part of the initial learning curve when switch leagues and facing the former major league pitching that proliferates Triple-A teams.

Scouting Reports/Comments:

Baseball America May 2011

While he's older than the average Double-A player at 26, Vogt sure can hit. He led the Florida State League in batting and slugging last year, and he's followed it up with an exceptional start with Montgomery. Focus on the positives and you see that Vogt is a good-hitting lefty bat who can serve as a backup catcher while also seeing time in left field and at first base. And as the possessor of an excellent Joe Maddon imitation, he also keeps the clubhouse light.

BaseballHQ 2012 Minor League Analyst Book

Versatile and strong player who has played a variety of positions, though more time at catcher the last two seasons. Good fastball hitter and posted career highs in homers and doubles in 2011. Makes consistent, hard contact though swings early in the count and does not draw many walks. Can produce with the bat, but defense is suspect. Not agile enough to be a catcher in the big leagues.

Statistical Scouting Ratings (from TheBaseballCube):

  • Speed: 44
  • Contact: 91
  • Patience: 57
  • Batting: 88
  • Power: 52

Summary:

The fact the organization has played him at catcher, left field, first base, and even right field a handful of times speaks to the point that they must like the bat and are trying to find the best use of it. The best use of it just may be as a reserve catcher that can fill in at other positions in a pinch if needed. He has thrown out 31 percent of the runners that tried to steal bases against him the last two seasons as well.

John Gregg mentioned in his piece a few weeks ago that the people he talked to down in camp all raved about Vogt, and he has certainly turned heads early in camp with his performance. Sean Rodriguez turned heads in 2010 with monster numbers in the Grapefruit League that helped secure his spot with the team while Casey Kotchman did the same last season and hinted at what was to come for him in the regular season. Could Vogt be that guy in 2012? So far, he seems to be doing all of the right things.

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