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Rays Digest: You were mentioning before about being 25 and playing in High A ball. In my own personal opinion, I think that you are overlooked as a prospect because of your age. What are your feelings on that? Is it easier or harder on you? Or do you find yourself because of your maturity helping out younger players who maybe don’t have quite the life experience as you as you have come up through the minors?
Stephen Vogt: In my opinion the whole term “prospect” is a loaded title. I think what happens to a lot of young players who are 18 or 19 years old is that they get labeled “Oh he’s a top prospect”. Well...he hasn’t even experienced life yet. I think that ends up hurting a lot of younger guys. So I would like to think that I have helped a couple of young guys relax. So many times what happens is we forget that this is a game. It is so much more than a game, but at the same time we have to trick ourselves every day and say “I’m just playing baseball. That’s all I’m doing." There is a lot of pressure on some of these younger guys.
I’ve had my job taken away and I’ve gotten it back. I got hurt and that took me out of the mix a little bit and I was able to turn that around and get my job back. Being older and being more mature and being hurt has really helped me, because now I know what it’s like to not have baseball - and I’d rather have it than not have it. I realize how much hard work it takes, especially being a little bit older and it being kind of like my last chance sort of. So I hope I can continue to stay healthy and play well.
Rays Digest: In 2010 you won the Erik Walker Community Champion Award which recognizes the Rays minor league player who exemplifies sportsmanship and teamwork and community involvement. You have just spoken a little to the teamwork part of it with some of the work that you’ve done with younger players. What kinds of things do you do in terms of community involvement?
Stephen Vogt: We have a lot of player appearances. Each minor league affiliate puts out player appearances for their players. When I won that award I had spent two years in Port Charlotte.
The biggest thing that I like to do is get the fans - especially the children and small kids - involved. That’s why we play...because it’s entertainment. It’s our job and we love to play baseball, but the kids that come out to the ballpark are paying to see us play. If I can make one kid every night feel special - whether that’s by me pointing at him and waving or signing an autograph - that’s what I want to try to do. So as far as community involvement goes I just try and give back the best way I can however that way presents itself. It’s different in every city, but that’s what I try to do.
Rays Digest: You’re a career .305 hitter in the minors. In your five season you have played at a lot of different levels and - as you pointed out - you were injured one year. What have been your keys to success as you’ve moved through the system and adjusted to higher level pitching and still remained a good hitter and in some ways have taken your game to a higher level?
Stephen Vogt: I think it’s being open to changing. The game changes at every level. You have to change the way you hit at every level. You don’t change who you are, but at the same time, each year I’ve had to make an adjustment.
Leading up to this year and going back to the year I was hurt, I basically had to go back to square one. I finally learned how to drive the ball to right field. I’d always been an inside-out swing, hit-the-ball-the-other-way kind of guy. I kind of transformed that in 2010 with the help of Jared Sandberg, our short-season coach. I live in the same town as him in the winter. He really helped me learn how to pull the ball without sacrificing my game the other way.
This season, in 2011, I had to learn how to be more aggressive. I’ve always been pretty patient. But that’s the reason why this season my walk numbers were down, because I was in the process of learning how to be more aggressive and being ready to hit that first really good fastball I saw. So that was something that was different this year and that was definitely a change. I think that’s the biggest difference. You have to be willing to make adjustments along the way and not think “I’ve got it all figured out”.
Rays Digest: I was looking at some numbers on all the Rays’ hitters in the minors and something that struck me about you is that you had one of the highest line drive percentages of anyone in the entire system. Would you say that that result is from your work with Jared Sandberg and your new approach to hitting?
Stephen Vogt: Yeah. He’s been a huge part of helping refine who I am and we also have great hitting coaches all throughout the system. It’s maturing as a hitter. It’s learning who I am as a hitter. It’s developing my own opinions on hitting. Because by the time you get to this level and this age - you’re your own hitting coach. You have coaches that help you along the way and I have had help from a lot of different coaches. But in the end, I have to take ownership of it because it’s my swing. So I’ve learned that and I’ve developed my own opinions, but I’ve also had a lot of help from Jared and the other hitting coaches in our organization.
Rays Digest: Do you do a lot of work analyzing your swing with video? What sorts of things do you work on in the cage?
Stephen Vogt: I try to stay away from video honestly. I think with so much video now when something feels wrong or goes wrong we just automatically run to video. I think video is a good tool to have and I use it every once in awhile.
What I do every day is have a hitting routine that I go through. It goes from tee-work to a little bit of front soft-toss, but it’s the same routine every day. I know the feeling that I want to have every day and if I feel a little off I’ll try and make little adjustments to get back to where I know I need to be. Keeping that routine every day helps, because I know how I’m suppose to feel every day, and if I don’t feel right I can make the adjustments I need to.
Rays Digest: Since your pretty much playing baseball year-round because of winter ball - and I know you have a wife and child - how have you adjusted to being on the road and playing baseball that much? Does your family live with you during the season?
Stephen Vogt: The last few seasons have been very brutal. (chuckles) In 2008 and 2009 my wife and I spent pretty much the whole season together. Last year was terrible. We were apart most of the year. This past season, as well, was pretty bad.
But nothing was as hard as it had ever been until I left for winter ball this year, because I left not only my wife - but my daughter. Now that we’re a family, it’s a lot different leaving than it was before. Obviously I miss my wife and I don’t like being away from her. But at the same time I always knew that “she’s an adult, she’s by herself , but she’ll be ok.” But now with an entire family together it’s a lot different leaving. One of the best parts about being added to the 40 Man Roster is that we can be a family now and hopefully not have to be apart anymore this upcoming season.
Rays Digest: What sorts of things do you do when you’re not playing baseball? What are some of your hobbies? What are some of your passions? If you weren’t playing baseball what would you like to be doing?
Stephen Vogt: I love golf. I wish I could play more, but I live in the great Northwest and it’s usually too icy to play much. I enjoy reading. I enjoy playing video games. I love going for walks. Up here in Washington we have some beautiful, beautiful lakes and great scenery. My wife’s a photographer type. She loves taking pictures and we’ve gotten some really great memories that way.
If I wasn’t playing, I’d definitely be coaching - probably college level. I have my degree. As soon as I ‘m done - regardless of how long I get to play - I want to go back and get my Masters and end up being a college head coach. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do and I would still love to do it.
Rays Digest: So would you get your Masters in Education then?
Stephen Vogt: I don’t know. I have my degree in Physical Education. It would be either in Education or Sports Administration. I can’t remember what it’s called , but it’s basically to become an Athletic Director.
Rays Digest: One final question. I always ask everybody about social media. I know you’re on Twitter and that’s actually how we ended up connecting. What are your thoughts on social media and the ways that you can utilize it as a player to connect with fans and get information? There are a couple of players on the Rays - David Price being the main one - that are absolutely incredible at marketing themselves and connecting with fans. So what are your feeling on Twitter and FaceBook?
Stephen Vogt: I think Twitter’s great. Twitter is one of the social media ways you can connect with fans without really being hurt by it. FaceBook you have to be careful with I think. FaceBook scares me. There are pictures on there that can be taken out of context. There are pictures that can get you in trouble even though they’re innocent. So I think you have to be very careful with social media.
As far as Twitter goes, really all you can do is have conversations on there. You really can’t get into a lot of trouble on there - at least I hope not. I think you just have to be guarded with what you post and what you share. Think twice before you share something. It goes hand-in-hand with everything we’ve learned about social media. I think it can be great for - as you said - keeping in touch with fans. I think it’s a great tool for that, but you just have to be careful, because there are some people out there who just want to bury you for any little thing. They’ll try and find that any way they can.
Rays Digest: Is there a policy for minor leaguers in regards to social media? I know there is one for MLB, like you can’t tweet from the dugout and stuff like that.
Stephen Vogt: I haven’t heard of any. There’s probably a stricter policy for us than the major leaguers. I don’t think there are too many people trying to tweet from the dugout.(laughs) I haven’t really looked into to it, because I don’t tweet that much. I just like to know what’s going on. Social media can be good, but at the same time you need to be careful with it.
Rays Digest: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me, especially on Christmas Eve, because I’m sure you’re missing your family and you want to hang out with them. I hope to be able to talk to you in the future, maybe during Spring Training.
Stephen Vogt: No problem. Absolutely. I enjoy reading your articles. Merry Christmas!
Vogt made a couple of interesting comments that I feel compelled to point out and expound upon. So I will be doing an "epilogue" of sorts tomorrow to share my thoughts on a couple of things that he said. Nothing major, but enough to merit a separate article. It was definitely an eye-opening interview for me and tomorrow I'll share why.
Also...you can follow Stephen Vogt on Twitter at @SVogt1229 .
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.
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