The Rays organization is packed with utility players, players who can play more than one position. Every team has several utility players in their system, but the difference is that the Rays’ guys can often actually hit. Ben Zobrist can play anywhere, but he was entrenched at second base for the Rays in 2011 because of his great hitting and nice defense. Sean Rodriguez isn’t the caliber of player that Zobrist is, but he still made 108 starts in 2011 at various positions. And there are more versatile players, both with the glove and bat, making their way up through the Rays system. But among those players, Stephen Vogt is very unique.
At 6-0, 215, 27 year old Stephen Vogt doesn’t have your sleek middle infielder’s build like nearly every utility player has. But he’s not your prototypical utilityman at all. Vogt handling shortstop is a pipe dream. But being able to play the infield and outfield corners is nice. There are quite a few players in the majors and minors able to that, though. What Vogt brings to the table is the ability to play one of the hardest positions on the diamond: catcher.
In his minor league career, Vogt has played 199 games in left field, 103 games at catcher, 52 at first base, and 3 in right field. Vogt isn’t an elite defender at any of those positions, but he’s at least passable at catcher, left field, and first base. Vogt also had a breakout season at the plate in 2011 between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham, posting a .298/.335/.498 line with 35 doubles, 7 triples, 17 homers, and 105 RBI. If Vogt can be a such a versatile player with a stout bat, he’ll be a valuable big leaguer player.
However, Vogt has his issues as well. At age 27, he still needs a full year at Triple-A. And looking at Vogt’s Triple-A numbers, there is definitely reason for concern. In 31 games and 131 plate appearances, not a large sample size but at least significant, Vogt posted a .290/.305/.516 line with 14 doubles, 4 homers, and 20 RBI. His lack of plate discipline is a problem, but even worse is that his batting average and slugging percentage were likely flukes. He posted a .340 BAbip (batting average on balls in play) compared to the league average despite posting a line drive percentage (17.3% according to Minor League Central) that was well below the league average (19.5%). And even though Vogt’s .516 SLG is impressive to the eye, his power was actually below average. Before you say “What? His .226 isolated power was way above the league ISO of .139!”, let me explain. Just 8.7% of Vogt’s flyballs to the outfield went for home runs, well below the league average of 11.3%. Considering Vogt hit flyballs to the outfield at a crazy rate (46.9% of his batted balls compared to the league average of 28.2%), you would expect him to post a BAbip well below the league average because even flyballs to the outfield have an incredibly low BAbip (see here for more on that). Instead, Vogt’s flyballs were dropping for way too many extra-base hits and bloop singles, inflating his BAbip and batting average along with his slugging percentage. Bottom line, Vogt’s plate discipline is non-existent, his pure hitting is questionable and even his power is suspect.
Vogt’s versatility is an asset, but he’s going to have to defy me and put up some nice numbers in Durham before we can bill him as anything more than a late bloomer who finally had a breakout season but isn’t really such a great player at all. If Vogt can hit, his ability to play multiple positions could get him semi-regular at-bats on some major league team within a couple years. But considering his defense isn’t so great anyway and he can’t play the usual utility positions, he doesn’t have any value even as a backup catcher unless he hits. Who wants a backup catcher who plays poor defense and still can’t hit?
Nothing has ever been expected of Stephen Vogt as a pro. We should keep it this way. He’ll probably make the big leagues, but expecting him to make any type of impact is foolish. If he pleasantly surprises us with the bat, then great, but keep the expectations low.