Dan Vogelbach came to the Cubs in the second round of the 2011 Rule 4 draft. Listed currently at 6'0, 250 lbs, Vogelbach was listed at 288 just before the draft, and has worked hard to drop weight and become more athletic since turning pro. Pre-draft, Perfect Game had this to say about Vogelbach as a draft prospect:
Vogelbach is enormously strong, and along with his loose, easy wrists generates outstanding bat speed from the left side of the plate. Another factor that makes Vogelbach unique in the scouting community is that it is almost easier to break down his mental approach to hitting, rather than his physical approach, especially after granting him his raw strength and bat speed. The young man eats, sleeps and breathes swinging a bat, and is an exceptionally-confident hitter who doesn’t believe that any pitcher should ever get him out. Like oversized slugger Prince Fielder, Vogelbach is such a ferocious hitter that almost everyone in the park will stop and watch his at-bats…Yet as advanced as Vogelbach is presently, Fielder was stronger at the same age coming out of a Melbourne, Fla., high school, and hit the ball harder…But the comparison to Fielder is a valid one—perhaps the most valid “Prince” comparison of the last decade.
It's debatable whether drawing Prince Fielder comps should be flattering or not, but so it goes. As a big, burly high school power hitter with light tower power and a very mature hitting approach, Vogelbach was expected to go to an AL team and be groomed as a DH, with rumored interest from the Red Sox, Twins, and Rays pre-draft. The Cubs apparently saw something they liked, however, and drafted him as the 68th overall pick, signing on deadline day for $1.6 million.
He signed in time to play only 6 games in the 2011 season for the AZL Cubs, but flashed hints at his major power potential by slugging .542 with a .250 ISO. He would return in 2012 to turn the AZL — and later the Northwest League — into his own personal power showcase, finishing with a .324/.391/.686 line in 115 AZL PAs and a .322/.423/.608 line in 168 PAs for Boise. The high average, high walk-rate, massive power combination was (and honestly, remains) a rare trifecta among Cubs hitting prospects, and thus Vogelbach became the object of a lot of lustful daydreaming among Cubs prospect hounds despite his defensive shortcomings and apparent DH future. As 2013 loomed with the promise of full-season ball for Vogelbach at Kane County, expectations were sky high.
Vogelbach's performance in 2013 would be attention-grabbing for any ordinary twenty-year old prospect. His .284/.364/.450 performance in 500 Kane County plate appearances was nothing to be ashamed of, and his .280/.455/.440 line and 24.2% walk rate in a short stint at Daytona to finish the year reinforced the mature approach he takes to the plate. But for a player whose raw power draws 80 grades and gaping stares from scouts and onlookers, a .450 slugging and .166 ISO — a more than 100 point drop from the Northwest League — inspired a fairly lukewarm reception from fans eagerly awaiting eye-popping power numbers and tape-measure home runs. Vogelbach managed only 38 extra base hits at Kane County, despite banging 20 in a third of the PAs at Boise the year previous. Our own Myles wrote about the myserious vanishing Vogelbomb a few weeks ago, questioning a significantly down strikeout rate at Kane County (15.2% vs 20.2% at Boise) and the Flowbro's slimmed-down physique.
Whatever the reason, Vogelbach's bat, while not exactly quiet, definitely lost a few decibals in 2013 — enough to raise concerns about what his power numbers will look like going forward.
On the subject of Vogelbach's diminished power, a Baseball Prospectus Eyewitness Account had this to say:
80 raw, but utility is closer to future 60; swing isn’t naturally geared to easy lift; produces backspin—ball tough to track down to the gaps; may be best in two gears, reaching to power in hitter’s counts; when trying to drive, can get pull happy and make too much contact out front; will need to find balance between hard line-drive contact and over-the-fence efforts.
This would seem to suggest that, barring future adjustments and development, that Vogelbach's power numbers could remain underwhelming as he advances through the organizational ranks, as more advanced pitching should result in fewer hitters counts, and thus fewer opportunities for the Flowbro to take over-the-fence hacks. The B-Pro report suggests as much in reviewing Vogelbach's hit tool:
shows ability to make adjustments across at-bats, but can tripped up by quality sequencing; dangerous in fastball counts—when he figures out how to get to those counts more often, look out.
While Vogelbach has definitely dropped a ton of weight over his pro career, the fact that his raw power still draws elite scouting grades hints that the drop in ISO is more a reflection of a developmental need to adjust to better-quality pitching as opposed to a major change in his strength or natural ability to hit a baseball. The power still remains, but finding more ways to turn the favorable counts that don't become walks into extra-base hits is the clear next phase of his development.
It's also worth noting that, especially at Kane County this season, Vogelbach has destroyed righties while being essentially useless against lefties. He managed only a .257/.311/.321 line against LHP vs a .293/.381/.494 against righties, with only 5 XBHs against lefties vs 33 against righties. He'll have to take a step forward against lefties to avoid falling into bench/platoon prospect status.
Vogelbach only got 66 regular-season PAs at Daytona after 500 in Kane County, so I'd expect him to return to the FSL to start next season. The trend has been for Dan to use his offseasons as an opportunity to dramatically improve his fitness and athleticism, and another winter of that would certainly improve his odds of adding some degree of defensive value to his toolset. His future will be determined ultimately by his bat, however, and his ability to turn his good approach into the high-average, high-power monster he was in short-season ball. Scouts remain confident that Vogelbach owns a major-league caliber bat; whether or not he's a first-division player will be determined by his defensive strides and how effectively he can turn his massive raw power into extra base hits.