There’s a new home run king at T-Mobile Park. He’s smashing baseballs over the fence, beyond the batters-eye, and recently, into the official nosebleeds of the third deck. His name is Daniel Vogelbach and he hits dingers.
The 2019 season is about a third-of-the-way done. The Seattle Mariners are in last place in the AL West and any lingering hopes about a winning brand of baseball have been abandoned across the Emerald City. In replacement, optimistic eyes turn towards the “2020/2021 rebuild” and the standout players of today that signal the potential team of tomorrow.
Beyond the seasoned veterans, the established stars, and the recent callups, Daniel Vogelbach sticks out like a porcupine in a nudist colony.
Since the Mariners waved a fond farewell to franchise-favorite sluggers Nelson Cruz and Mike Zunino, a clear pathway for new hitters to establish themselves has been paved. Eager to go for a walk, the team welcomed to town two professional hitters, Edwin Encarnación and Jay Bruce, to presumably hold down homerun duties for the team.
It’s safe to say that nobody told Vogie though, because this young fella has done what he was born to do whenever he steps into the batter’s box… knock the cover off the ball.
Earlier this week, Vogelbach hit a towering blast into right field that ultimately struck a third-deck chair. That might not sound all that impressive without accompanying launch angle and/or flight distance stats (and Statcast was oddly down on night in question, so we’ll never have the exact measurements), but I challenge the lack of hard data with a time-honored tradition, the infamous eyeball test.
Before the Statcast era, the measurement and comparison of epic homers had to be done in a subjective way, with everyone weighing its unique arc, distance, destination, and style against each other according to our own personal preferences. No matter how you feel about line-drive homers versus huge moonshots, it’s impossible to deny any hit landing in the upper deck is truly extraordinary.
In fact, in a real game, only three players have managed to ever lay into a ball well enough to generate a third deck result at T-Mobile Park (formerly Safeco Field). Mo Vaughn did it first all the way back in 1999, and then Carlos Delgado did it two years later in the 2001 season, but neither of those men played for the Mariners. Meaning that Vogelback has accomplished something that even the unequaled franchise icons of Griffey and Martinez failed to do in the 20-year history of the Mariner’s stadium.
Here’s how it went down.
In the seventh inning with two outs, the Mariners held on to a tender 3-2 lead against the Texas Rangers. My guy Vogie stepped up to the plate, saw the pitch he was looking for, and didn’t miss his opportunity, ultimately depositing the ball in the first row of the third deck in right field, above the suites just above the Hit It Here Café. I guess Vogelbach took the name seriously.
If you haven’t seen it (and it’s been making the rounds online, so you probably have) please do yourself the favor of searching it out and watching it repeatedly. You won’t be disappointed.
While this is certainly Vogelbach’s breakout season, it’s technically his fourth in the majors. But playing just 8 games in 2016, 16 in 2017, and only 37 in all of 2018 when he finally got more than 100 plate appearances, it certainly feels like he came out of nowhere. So far this season, he’s hitting .252, with 15 HRs and 32 RBIs.
And yet, on a team overflowing with DH-style hitters, Vogelbach struggles to make the lineup everyday – only playing 49 of the teams 58 games.
As the rebuild has revealed itself, I’ve been thinking about our trio of sluggers, Vogelbach, Encarnación, and Bruce. All three of whom have enjoyed decent production so far this season, but I wonder who will remain on the roster over the coming weeks as contending teams contemplate trading for additional quality DH bat to their lineups.
And one team stands out from the rest of the America League: the Cleveland Indians.
Cleveland is a team in freefall. Entering the season, they were the consensus favorites to win the AL Central. But with the odd combination of an inactive offseason and the surging division-rival Minnesota Twins finding their groove, Cleveland has fallen not only out of first place, but almost out of Wildcard contention all together. Measuring by almost any team batting statistic, they fall among the bottom three teams of the entire AL. And that includes the Baltimore Orioles!
So, could Cleveland use one of our DH hitters? Encarnación came from Cleveland, so I think we can rule him out, as returning to your former team rarely works. And surprisingly, Bruce has also played for Cleveland, albeit only for a single season. Nevertheless, he failed to do much of anything for the Indians in 2017, so I think he’s a bust too.
That leaves Daniel Vogelbach as the lone Seattle-slugging-savior for the Indians.
Will he be traded away to the Indians? Maybe. If he was traded today, he’d instantly become arguably their best hitter, with a better on-base and slugging percentages, than almost anyone on the ballclub.
But if the value isn’t there, as in decent prospect players that can help the Mariners rebuild, I think they should hold on to Vogelbach. As a fan, those monster Vogelbombs are way too much fun to watch, and during a season of struggles we need all the reasons to watch we can get.
And who knows, he might continue doing upper deck damage to baseballs. So, even if we’re losing games, that’s something special to appreciate this season.