With many of the big-name prospects now at Wrigley, I have to admit that the minor leagues had been getting short shrift here at Cubs Insider. But with new addition Sagar Sheth putting out weekly MiLB updates, and a group of writers dedicated to individual affiliate beats, that should change in short order.
It’s easy to understand why our focus might have tailed a bit though, as the glamour has finally shifted back to the product in Chicago. Gunther Dabynsky even wrote Tuesday about the already-fading glory of the Cubs’ system following the matriculation of Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, and Addison Russell.
Bryant in particular has been making his presence felt with the big league club, pairing with Anthony Rizzo to form one of the most potent left-right combos in baseball. The two young stars are earning pitchers’ respect, posting absurd OBPs of .477 (Rizzo) and .471 (Bryant). But they’re not the only duo tuning up their respective league.
The Tennessee Smokies currently boast a pair of bash brothers who are making a complete mockery of the Southern League so far this season. Built like fire hydrants, Kyle Schwarber and Dan Vogelbach conjure images of Ram Man of He-Man and the MOTU fame, only with bats instead of battle axes.
They’re certainly battering opposing pitching thus far, as evidenced by slash lines of .388/.484/.735 (Schwarber) and .387/.493/.645 (Vogelbach), not to mention respective OPS figures of 1.219 and 1.138. I can’t see at this point what either has to prove at the AA level, other than to perhaps give folks near Gatlinburg something to do outside of the traditional tourist-trap activities.
Interestingly enough, both young players throw right and bat left and both have faced questions about positional flexibility moving forward. But where Schwarber is primarily a catcher, a position at which his prodigious power is more than enough to make talent evaluators salivate, Vogelbach plays first base.
Schwarber may be able to patrol left field at a passable level moving forward as well, which means that his path to the majors is relatively clear. Again, the Cubs would love to see him be able to hold his own behind the dish, but the positional flexibility they so highly covet is there to at least some extent.
Vogelbach, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to have a spot other than DH to which he can move, so between Anthony Rizzo and the Senior Circuit’s stubborn insistence that pitchers bat, the 22-year-old slugger is very limited in terms of both lateral and upward mobility. As a result, his hot start could mean that he ends up being part of a trade for big piece as the season moves on.
We all knew the time was coming when the Cubs would stop stockpiling talent and would actually begin to use their wealth to acquire established major league players who could help the team to win now. The trouble is, during the period of embracing the suck at the major league level, we really got to know the farmhands a little better than in years past.
Vogelbach in particular is a guy who, for me at least, symbolized the rebuild the Cubs have undergone under Theo Epstein and Co. Drafted in the 2nd round of the 2011 draft out of Bishop Verot HS in Ft. Myers, FL, Vogelbach was a guy everyone seemed to like. Part of that was his Chris Farley-esque physique, but more of it was his attitude and drive.
Heading into last season, he really got serious about a fitness regimen and dropped at least 30 pounds. At 6-0, 250 lbs, he’s still a big dude, but he’s much more nimble that when he first joined the Cubs organization. I don’t claim to be a minor-league guru and I haven’t seen scores of his games, but when I got the chance to talk with Dan and see him play in person, I walked away impressed.
I love the fire and positivity this kid brings to the system, but they say if you love something you have to let it go. If it brings back talent that can help you win right away, your system is working as it should. If it languishes in the minors without a way to move up, well, that’s just plain dumb.
I may have totally butchered Sherrilyn Kenyon’s quote, but Vogelbach is fast becoming the kind of player whose future will be brightest with another team. The increased publicity and attention drawn by the glut of talent coming through the system is certainly helpful for his value, but right now the Cubs’ organization is little more than a cage for a guy who’s basically tethered to one spot on the field (plus, you know, DH).
I’m going to be pulling for Dan Vogelbach to continue on his path to the majors and I can’t wait for him to make his Wrigley Field debut. I just think it’ll be best for both him and the Cubs that he does so in a visiting uniform.