Earlier this week I posted a list of Rule 5 Draft eligible players and briefly speculated on who the Rays might decide to add to their 40 man roster in order to protect them. Two of the names I mentioned were indeed protected (Vogt and Colome), and a third (Rodriguez) was a bit of a surprise.
With the addition of the three players, the Rays 40 man Roster complement now stands at 38. With free agent catcher Jose Molina expected to sign a deal any day now, this would leave one open spot for the Rays to possibly select a player themselves when the draft occurs next month during the Winter Meetings.
Last season the organization lost RHP Aneury Rodriguez to the Houston Astros. He would go on to pitch in 43 games for Houston and posted a 1-6 record with a 5.27 earned run average in 85.1 innings. Next week I will identify a couple of players in our system who may be candidates to be drafted by other teams, as well as examine some interesting names that will be available for the Rays to draft should they so choose. For now though, let's take a look at Stephen Vogt.
Of the three players protected Stephen Vogt has the best chance to make an impact in 2012 for the Rays. Vogt was the organization's Minor League Player of the Year and hit .298 with 17 home runs and 105 runs batted in between AA Montgomery and AAA Durham. He could very well be in the 1B/DH mix for the Rays, especially if the team is unable to add a bat during the off-season.
Vogt played five positions during 2011 (C, 1B, LF, RF, DH), and has done so since being drafted in the 12th round in 2007. In that regard he is both an asset and a liability. He is truly a player without a position, which makes him unattractive as an every day starter in the field. As a bench or role player though, he could be a real nice fit for the Rays. If his bat translates to the Majors of course.
It very well could. The Rays are not the type of franchise to use their roster for making strictly organizational moves. They obviously believe in Vogt's ability to hit at the next level. Every position player currently on the 40 Man Roster accept for catcher Nevin Ashley played at some point in the Majors last season. Vogt is gonna play for the Rays sometime in 2012. The question is more likely...when and...where?
The intriguing thing about Vogt's 2011 campaign was his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) while with AA Montgomery. In 414 at bats there he hit .301 while his BABIP was .310. Couple that with a line drive percentage of 20 percent and the lowest ground ball percentage in the entire Rays farm system for players with over 300 at bats at 32.5 percent, and I think this shows a player that generally makes quality contact. I'm not a sabermetrician by any stretch, but this seems to indicate to me that his high batting average in the Minor Leagues is legit. Whether or not he will be able to replicate his success at the plate against higher quality pitching is another story.
There is some reason to think that he could struggle at the next level though. He struck out at an 11.9 percent clip in 427 at bats for AA Montgomery, and only Tim Beckham swung and missed at more pitches than Vogt in the Rays system last year.
In 554 plate appearances, he swung and missed 993 times. That averages out to be 1.79 whiffs every time he went to the plate. Despite this he only struck out 60 times swinging. I'm not sure if this is indicative of a good two strike approach or not, but you would think that a player that missed the ball that often would have had more punch outs.
Age is another concern. He is already 27 years old, and has only had 131 plate appearances above AA. While there is certainly time for Vogt to improve, the clock is already ticking and there isn't a lot of upside to a player like him at his age.He has produced at every level of the Minors however, and has a career .305 batting average and .362 on base percentage. It will be interesting to see how much playing time he is given in Spring Training. If he hits well there, it wouldn't be hard to imagine him being a bench player right out of camp. His initial playing time is also closely tied to what the Rays do this off-season. If they sign a first baseman and/or a designated hitter like most expect, than it might be hard to find a roster spot for him right off the bat.
Two advantages Vogt has are his status as a left-handed swinger and his ability to catch and play multiple positions.
With the Rays status as a platoon loving team, Vogt could be tried in tandem with someone else as a two-headed monster at DH. He also has some pop in his bat as evidenced by his 59 extra base hits last season, and could be an asset as a pinch hitter or late game match-up guy. The Rays don't currently have a left-handed bat like Vogt's on their projected bench, so I could easily see Joe Maddon salivating at the prospect of being able to have him at his disposal.
His ability to catch is intriguing as well. While he doesn't figure into the Rays catching mix at this point, it is nonetheless an advantage he has for making the team. Having a third catcher on the roster who also happens to swing from the left side gives Maddon flexibility in both building lineups and matching up late in games.The fact that Vogt can play first base and the corner outfield spots as well means that Maddon could use him at just about any spot in the lineup without having to worry as much about defensive positions. Players like Ben Zobrist and Sean Rodriguez have been invaluable to the Rays because of their ability to play all over the diamond.
While I'm not comparing Vogt to Zobrist by any means, it is clear that the Rays value players with positional flexibilty. This becomes even more important if the team continues to carry 12 pitchers as they have done for what seems like forever now.
Vogt will never win any Gold Glove awards, but his defense has been more than adequate in the Minor Leagues. He has a combined career .992 fielding percentage at all four positions he has played in the field. He has also made only 13 errors in 1600 chances spanning 377 games. He even owns a 34 percent caught stealing percentage, which is way better than John Jaso's 19 percent at the big league level.
While Vogt's range may not impress, he clearly doesn't make a lot of mistakes defensively. That may not be enough for him to become a starter at anywhere other than DH, but it is plenty good enough for the kind of role he could play for the Rays.
If Vogt can hit in the Big Leagues, he could be a real nice addition to the Rays. If the team does decide to use him as primarily a DH, even a slight improvement on Johnny Damon's .261/.326/.418 slash line would be huge. Vogt appears to have the potential to do that.
That production would also come for almost 5 million dollars less, allowing the team to address other areas like another bullpen arm. These are all big "ifs" obviously, but Andrew Friedman is the type to explore all possible situations and scenarios.
With the word on the street being that free agent closer Francisco Cordero has been talking to the Rays, maybe Friedman will direct a larger portion of his limited financial resources on the bullpen. The team picked up Kyle Farnsworth's option, but they may feel they need a contingency plan in case his elbow blows up.
If the organization is talking to Cordero, then they well may be talking to other higher priced free agent relievers like Heath Bell. If they feel like Vogt is ready to contribute, then this gives them a lot more flexibility this off-season to make key decisions.
The bottom line is this: Vogt's Minor League track record, positional flexibility, and ability to fill multiple roles make him an intriguing player. There are plenty of scenarios that could play out that would find him playing at Tropicana Field in 2012. It is too early to say if he will be a successful Major Leaguer, but I would not at all be surprised if Stephen Vogt was given the opportunity to play a major role for the Rays in 2012.
John Gregg is Publisher and Senior Editor of Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaysDigest. He can also be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.