PITTSBURGH – One day during spring training, a team doctor walked through the clubhouse and asked Edwin Jackson, the new $52 million pitcher, a question: Have you met Vogelbomb?
Diehard Cubs fans already know all about Dan Vogelbach, who has drawn comparisons to Prince Fielder because of his size (6-0, 250 pounds) and powerful left-handed swing. The moment spoke to Vogelbach’s larger-than-life personality – club officials rave about his enthusiasm and the way he interacts with teammates.
Now this does have an element of fantasy baseball to it. After all, Vogelbach was supposed to debut with Class-A Kane County on Thursday in Chicago’s western suburbs. But could this be your designated hitter at Wrigley Field in 2016?
It didn’t seem that absurd after reading team president Theo Epstein’s quotes in USA TODAY: “I think we’re going to see the DH in the National League. … Hopefully we’re just a few years away.”
Or listening to manager Dale Sveum, who already has Anthony Rizzo, a 23-year-old potential Gold Glove first baseman, in place as a building block.
“(With) a Vogelbach, those kind of guys are primed for that spot if it does happen,” Sveum said. “You produce some pretty good hitters in the minor leagues and sometimes you might have to trade him off or whatever because of the positions. (If) they end up being really good hitters, you might not have a spot for them.
“Vogelbach’s a good example of a guy (where) you might not have a spot – but you would if you had a DH. That’s a guy you drafted high and then you can keep him in the organization as a hitter.”
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Along with Javier Baez, Vogelbach became part of the $12 million draft class Jim Hendry signed after he already knew he was fired as general manager in August 2011.
The Cubs selected Vogelbach in the second round out of Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers, Fla., and convinced him to accept a $1.6 million bonus and not attend the University of Florida.
Vogelbach, 20, should be an attraction at Kane County. He’s generated 18 homers, 68 RBIs and a 1.038 OPS in 67 career minor league games. Team executives will be driving the 40-plus miles from Wrigley Field to Geneva.
As Sveum said: “It looks like from all the video I’ve watched – and obviously the numbers speak for themselves – (but) you can tell for a young kid he’s pretty polished already as far as pitch selection and trusting himself.”
The Cubs have to think this way because moving the Houston Astros to the American League created a 15-15 split and rolling interleague play throughout the season.
“I kind of like it the way it is, but obviously it makes sense now with the new scheduling,” Sveum said. “It’s going to be brought up quite a bit, to where it’s a serious issue now. … We didn’t build our team with a DH. They pay people a lot of money to DH. That’s part of their game.”
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After Vogelbach made a cameo appearance in the Cactus League, Sveum was asked about the possibility of switching positions if Rizzo blocks first base.
“A little young for that right now in his development,” Sveum said last month. “It’s one of those situations where we just leave him at first base and see what happens. And then a year from now or something like that you make those kinds of decisions.”
The DH would be one way to solve that problem and allow Cubs fans to dream about Rizzo and Vogelbach hitting bombs together.