Stephen Vogt had an opportunity at the beginning of 2012. But he was tentative right out of the gate and saw that opportunity slip away. Now, Vogt can’t wait for another shot.
The Rays can’t get enough of Stephen Vogt. He’s a catcher who has made strides defensively and can handle not just first base but also left field and right field. He’s a power bat who limits the strikeouts. He takes nothing for granted and works as hard as he can to get the most out of his ability. But none of that matters when you start the season 0 for 17. Vogt was unlucky that nothing he hit dropped in as he struck out just twice, but he didn’t reach a single 3-ball count and couldn’t hit anything hard, managing just a 7% line drive percentage. The Rays took a shot with Vogt. He was a player with only 31 games of Triple-A experience entering 2012, but he had the power they coveted off the bench and the versatility they emphasize throughout their organization. He was a backup catcher, a backup outfielder, and most importantly a disciplined lefty bat with power. The disciplined bat part didn’t work out so well.
In 2011 at Double-A, Vogt had a monster year, posting a .301/.344/.487 line with 12 doubles, 6 triples, 13 homers, 85 RBI, and a 51-30 strikeout to walk ratio in 97 games and 427 plate appearances. He then moved up to Triple-A Durham, where he managed a .290/.305/.516 line with 14 doubles, 4 homers, 20 RBI, although just a 29-4 strikeout to walk ratio in 31 games and 131 plate appearances. Vogt already had the warning signs at Triple-A in 2011. Why didn’t the Rays notice? Of course they knew. But they had confidence in Vogt’s ability to make adjustments. It’s not like they were giving Vogt a starting job. They were going to pick the right spots for him to start and pinch-hit against and they did- 94% of Vogt’s plate appearances, 16 out of 17, came against right-handed pitchers.
When a hitter gets into a slump, he can look back at what he had done differently prior to the slump as he hopes to turn things around. They also have the comfort of knowing that although things aren’t go well right now, they have a record of success and everything will be OK. Vogt had nothing to look at and nothing to fall back to. Imagine if one of Vogt’s flyballs dropped for in for a bloop single. That may have been all he needed.
Vogt had a tough go in his first big league stint. But at Triple-A Durham, he has worked incessantly on his plate discipline. So far this season, his .269/.348/.422 line in 393 plate appearances is not so impressive. But his strikeout to walk ratio has been an excellent 62-41, the third-best mark minimum 350 plate appearances in the International League (some guy named Dan Johnson was number one). Stephen Vogt is no superstar. His power is good, not great. He’ll never be a great defender anywhere. He’s not a guy who’s going to hit for a high average. But he’s a patient hitter who makes contact and puts the all in play with solid pop, and that’s all the Rays will ask him to do. Vogt will be back in the big leagues following the conclusion of Durham’s season. Hopefully he’ll get some at-bats, nail down that first hit and then some, and draw a few walks as well. That first big league experience sent a shock to Vogt’s system. But maybe it was exactly what he needed to become the best player moving forward.