Posted on February 22, 2017 by Bryan Zarpentine
The Seattle Mariners spent a good part of the offseason trying to add speed and defense to their roster, as evidenced by the additions of shortstop Jean Segura and outfielder Jarrod Dyson. However, one position where defense remains a question mark is first base. The Mariners are hopeful that rookie Dan Vogelbach can take over as the team’s primary first baseman. But the 6′ 250 lbs. slugger isn’t known for his defense, leaving him much to prove this spring before the Mariners hand him the job at first base.
The 24-year old Vogelbach knows the task ahead of him, as Mariners manager Scott Servais has let him know that he needs to be a viable defensive player at first base if he’s going to make Seattle’s opening day roster. The organization is confident that Vogelbach, who has just 12 major league at bats to his name, will hit for both average and power in the big leagues. After all, he hit .292 with 23 home runs and 25 doubles in triple-A last season.
Nevertheless, Seattle has brought in Danny Valencia to platoon at first base with Vogelbach, and possibly take over the job full time if the rookie isn’t ready. Despite being Seattle’s fifth best prospect, according to MLB.com, Vogelbach grades out as a well below-average defensive player, which is not a surprise for a player of his size and physique.
With almost any other American League team, Vogelbach would likely be pushed to a DH role. But in Seattle, that spot is reserved for Nelson Cruz, forcing Vogelbach to hold his own defensively if he wants to earn regular at bats with the Mariners this year. So knowing the challenge that was ahead of him, Vogelbach spent the winter trying to improve both his footwork and flexibility.
“I was working out with a purpose this year, becoming more flexible, loosening my body up and doing things to help me move better around the bag at first,” Vogelbach explains. “That was the main goal of the offseason, and I think I definitely accomplished that. I’m definitely feeling like I can get to balls that I couldn’t before.”
A little more than a week into spring training, the initial reviews on Vogelbach have been positive, with his manager taking note of the work he put in over the winter.
“I think he looks great,” Servais said of Vogelbach. “From where he was last season at the end of the year to where he’s at now, he’s certainly moving a lot better defensively around the bag. He’s a lot more flexible. His hands are working better. I like what I see so far. You could tell he spent a lot of time working at it.”
But Vogelbach knows that the hard work isn’t over yet. Thus far in camp, Vogelbach has worked closely with Seattle bench coach Tim Bogar, trying to learn the fundamentals of playing first base.
“It was the little things that got by,” Vogelbach said of his development on the defensive side of the ball up to this point. “Glove positioning, getting more free, being an athlete and not a robot. I am finally getting to that point and it feels good. Going over there and knowing and believing in myself makes things a lot better.”
Vogelbach believes with more repetitions, he’ll become more comfortable and confident in his abilities as a first baseman.
“The main thing is just trusting myself in the field,” he says. “Being as confident in the field as I am at the plate. That’s something I have finally accomplished, and I’m really excited that I’m starting to get that confidence, and anxious to go forward with it.”
Even if it’s in a platoon situation with Valencia, Seattle’s plan has always been for Vogelbach to be their primary first baseman in 2017. If he can hit the way the Mariners believe he can hit, Vogelbach can help give the Mariners impressive depth in their lineup behind the trio of Cruz, Robinson Cano, and Kyle Seager. But before the Mariners allow him to do that, Vogelbach must become a competent defensive first baseman. By all accounts, he’s making strides this spring towards making that happen, which is good news for both him and Seattle.