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July 21, 2016

Transaction Analysis

The Legend of Vogelbach, Now In Seattle

by Christopher Crawford, Rian Watt and Brendan Gawlowski


IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Acquired 1B-L Dan Vogelbach and RHP Paul Blackburn from Chicago Cubs in exchange for LHP Mike Montgomery and RHP Jordan Pries. [7/20]

Five years ago, the Cubs drafted Dan Vogelbach in the second round out of high school. Even then it was apparent to evaluators that his best position was designated hitter. A 20-runner, Vogelbach was thick and in less-than-tremendous shape. To his credit, he’s worked hard, grown out of some of his baby fat, and now looks much more chiseled than he did when he turned professional. But he still can’t play first base, as he has no range and looks lost on pop ups. With his bat ready to go and no place to play on a National League roster—one already outfitted with Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber, no less—Vogelbach was always going to end up with an American League club. In Seattle, he’ll get the chance to play his natural position, and he should find himself in the big-league lineup later this summer.

The calling card here is the bat, and it’s a good one. Vogelbach has above-average bat speed, and a compact swing with some loft at finish. He can spray the ball all over the diamond and drive it out to all fields, though he has a bit more power to his pull side. He has 80 raw, and could have plus power in games down the line. Whether it plays to that level or a tick lower, Safeco’s relatively friendly right field fence should suit him.

Vogelbach is a heady player too: he works counts, can adjust to offspeed, and has excellent strike zone judgment. He sees a lot of pitches, and while he’s patient, he’s not passive. He’ll swing early if you give him a cookie, and in my viewings, I’ve been impressed with the quality of his takes. He can be beat with good spin, but he’ll hit poorly-located breaking balls hard, and he’s lethal against fastballs. Vogelbach hustles when he’s on the field, and has been known to take the extra base on a sleepy defense. He’s also received rave reviews for his makeup and dedication throughout his time in the minors.

Ultimately, there is some risk in the profile. Vogelbach is a bat-only player, and if he can’t hit big-league spin consistently, he’s a bench bat at best. He’s also struggled against lefties throughout much of his minor-league career, and while he’s been better against southpaws this year, there are a few whisperers out there who think he might fit best in a platoon role. Either way, the bat should be good enough to provide big-league value in some capacity, and soon. With a .318/.425/.548 line in 368 at-bats in Triple-A Iowa, Vogelbach has just about earned a promotion. —Brendan Gawlowski

The Cubs took Blackburn with the 56th overall pick of the 2012 draft out of Heritage High School in California, and the belief was that he was an advanced pitching prospect that also had some projection. While he's shown the ability to throw strikes with all three pitches, the projection hasn't--and probably will not--come, and he's actually lost a tick or two off his fastball, sitting 88-90 mph most games. His best pitch is his changeup; he uses the same arm speed on it, and there's enough fade here to call it a solid-average offering. The curveball is also an average pitch; a pitch that is light on velocity but has enough break and depth to give it a 50 grade. He repeats his delivery well, and he should throw enough strikes to start. You're looking at no more than a fifth starter in all likelihood, but that might be the floor, too. —Christopher Crawford

CHICAGO CUBS
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Acquired LHP Mike Montgomery and RHP Jordan Pries from Seattle Mariners in exchange for 1B-L Dan Vogelbach and RHP Paul Blackburn. [7/20]

In Dan Vogelbach, the Cubs had a little bit of a situation going on. Everybody in the league knew that Vogelbach could hit. But the league also knew that the Cubs couldn’t use Vogelbach, not really, not with MVP candidate Anthony Rizzo—an unambiguously better player than Vogelbach, both at the plate and in the field—locked into a long-term contract at first base, and in a sweet, sweet embrace with his partner across the infield, Kris Bryant. Without the positional flexibility to move around the diamond, and with no DH spot waiting for him within Wrigley’s National League walls, a Vogelbach trade was as inevitable as these things get.

Which is why Vogelbach, probable Very Good Or At Least Perfectly Adequate Big League Hitter right now, was traded in exchange for a pretty good, but by no means great, big-league reliever by the name of Mike Montgomery,. Cubs fans, who’ve been in love with Vogelbach for years, may feel a little let down by the return, but they shouldn’t be. If you assume that Blackburn and Pries are basically a wash, this trade is pretty clearly a win for both teams.

So, back to Montgomery. The 27-year-old lefty is not only the pride of little Valencia, California (home too, perhaps more notably, to the Six Flags Magic Mountain and Six Flags Hurricane Harbor theme parks), but also became, in June of last year, the first Mariners starter since Freddy Garcia in 2001 to hurl consecutive complete-game shutouts. Which is neat. This year, Montgomery is a reliever, and there are two important things to know about him. The first of them is this: he’s a pretty good reliever. This year, for example, he’s thrown 61 ⅔ innings of relief for the Mariners, and allowed just 16 earned runs in the process for not only an impressively-low 2.34 ERA but also a slightly-less-impressive 3.71 DRA.

On to the second thing you should know about Montgomery, which is this: he won’t be a free agent until after the 2021 season. That’s a big deal for the Cubs, who not only had an immediate hole to fill in their bullpen (shaped, roughly, like the ghost of what Clayton Richard might have been) but were loath to fill it with a rent-a-LOOGY who’d walk right after the season. Montgomery will relieve this year, for sure, and he’ll be needed in a bullpen that’s struggled lately, but his time under team control will also allow the Cubs to test out the possibility of stretching him out in years to come, as John Lackey, Jason Hammel, and (eventually) Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta walk out the door. Not a bad return for a guy the whole league knew the Cubs had to trade in the next 12 days, and who they could only trade to half the league. —Rian Watt

Pries was a 30th-round selection out of Stanford way back in 2011, and has developed into serviceable organizational depth. What gives him an ever-so-slight chance of pitching on a big-league staff someday is his ability to throw strikes; he keeps the ball below the knees, and the sink on his 45-grade fastball allows it to play up. There's nothing here suggesting that can be much more than the last man on a pitching staff--and that might even be asking too much--but if you throw strikes and keep the ball in the park, you have a chance, kids. You have a chance. —Christopher Crawford

Christopher Crawford is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christopher's other articles. You can contact Christopher by clicking here
Rian Watt is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Rian's other articles. You can contact Rian by clicking here
Brendan Gawlowski is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Brendan's other articles. You can contact Brendan by clicking here

Related Content:  Seattle Mariners,  Chicago Cubs

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