It's incredibly hard to not love Dan Vogelbach.
After he was selected in the second round of the 2011 draft, the large high schooler with tremendous power became an instant favorite amongst Cubs fans. After all, who doesn't love overweight athletes? Bartolo Colon pictures are all over twitter, Fat Guy Touchdowns are among the best things to happen on a football field, and Matt Stairs was a fan favorite everywhere he went.
Because it took a season and a half for fans to get their first real glimpses of Vogelbach on the field, he remained an unknown quantity. There'd be the occasional grainy video or out-of-focus picture, but for the most part, fans got their Dan Vogelbach information in the form of folk-tales from dusty ballparks hundred of miles to the west. A man in Idaho could whisper "Vogs just crushed one" and it spread through the Cubs fanbase like wildfire.
For some, these stories built Vogelbach up to be one of the premier hitting prospects in all of the minors, and they ended up disappointed when he was merely good in his full season debut. For me though, actually seeing Vogelbach play ball impressed me more than a thousand videos of home runs from Idaho ever could.
Dan Vogelbach cares about winning with an intensity that is rare among Midwest League ballplayers.
When things weren't going well, Vogelbach couldn't hide his frustration in himself. Often after a really bad trip to the plate, Vogelbach was still visibly cussing himself out as the infield warmed up for the next inning. For some players this could be a sign of poor makeup*, but Vogelbach always bounced back by his next trip to the plate, bringing an adjusted approach into the box with him.
In one game last season I saw him take two really poor plate appearances to start his game. He was swinging early in counts at pitcher's pitches on the outer third, getting behind, and he popped up to end one at bat and weakly chopped one back to the pitcher to end the second. He was clearly trying to crush both of those pitches over the fence in right. Its rare to see a player as upset with themselves as he was after the second at bat, and he was talking to himself in the field until the inning ended.
On his next trip to the plate, he took a pitch or two and then roped an outer third fastball into the left-center field gap.
He was by far the easiest player to root for in the league. He was constantly trying to max out his limited athleticism, running hard out of the box on all batted balls - he took more extra bases on liners to the outfield than any man his size has any business taking. His makeup was/is just fantastic.
And if anyone who saw him last year needed more proof of Dan Vogelbach's excellent makeup, he's already provided it this spring by showing up to camp (another) 30 something pounds lighter. Take a look at this picture from Gordon Wittenmyer:
The newer slimmed-down Vogelbomb pic.twitter.com/vgQsxdqd8e
— Gordon Wittenmyer (@GDubCub) February 25, 2014
I couldn't have guessed that was Dan Vogelbach if you had given me fifteen guesses at who that is.
That is the look of a player who cares about winning. That is the look of a player who knows his faults, knows what it takes to make it as a professional athlete, and has the mental strength to actually pull it off. With the kind of makeup he has, he's erased any doubt that he do all that is within his power to make the show.
Is he losing power with the lost weight? Almost certainly not, but if he is, can you look at that picture and honestly think he wont bust his ass in the gym to put the necessary muscle on? Is his footwork around the bag at first still atrocious? Yeah, yeah it is, but footwork is a thing that can be improved by endless repetition and desire to improve, which he has clearly shown. (Side note: he's not a left fielder, no matter how much work he put into it)
Dan Vogelbach's game has its warts, and he will be limited by his body for his whole career, but its a little bit easier to dream on a guy with the kind of drive that he's shown in his three years with the Cubs organization.
*Because hitting is a game of overwhelming failure, only occasionally interrupted by hard-won success, the desire to win more often manifests itself through frustration at losing than through celebration. Its tough to tell which players are using that frustration to fuel themselves, and which carry that frustration as weight that hurts them later in the game/series/season. Carlos Zambrano, for example, was a player who drifted into the latter category.
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