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Where did Stephen Vogt come from?

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From the mailbag:

"Fangraphs this week had an article about Stephen Vogt, who was leading the American League in RBI for awhile. I don't remember Vogt being mentioned as a prospect when he was in the minors. How was he viewed?"---J.N., San Jose, California

That email question plus a couple of requests in various comments threads came in a couple of weeks ago, no doubt referring to this Fangraphs piece by Eno Sarris that ran back on May 5th. Vogt is an interesting case study so let's take a look.

Vogt was drafted by the Rays back in the 12th round in 2007 out of Azusa Pacific University. He was extremely effective in college, hitting .476/.578/.784 that spring with 14 homers, 57 walks, and just 17 strikeouts in 227 at-bats. None of that is a typo. He lasted until the 12th round because he was a senior with mediocre physical tools and questionable defense playing for a smaller college program, albeit a very respected and successful program: his team went 51-10 that spring.

Vogt hit well in the New York-Penn League (.300/.371/.383) in '07 and in the Sally League (.291/.368/.408) in '08.  A shoulder injury that required surgery cost him almost all of 2009. He came back in 2010 and hit .345/.399/.511 in 368 at-bats for Charlotte in the Florida State League.

Despite those stunning numbers the scouting reports were not impressive, focusing on his age (he was 25 at this point) and still-doubtful defense. However, he continued to hit in 2011 (.301/.344/.487 in Double-A) and finally attracted some attention.

Normally a guy like Vogt would earn notice as a sleeper and I did notice his stats, but the reports I had remained negative until he reached Double-A so I didn't focus on him. However, his Double-A run made him harder to ignore and this is the comment I wrote in the 2012 book:

A 12th round pick in 2007 from Azusa Pacific, Vogt has quietly moved through the Rays system, hitting effectively at every level. He’s an older prospect, already 27 years old, but he doesn’t have anything left to prove in the minor leagues. The Rays are grooming him as a utility player: he’s played 199 career games in left field, 103 at catcher, and 52 at first base, plus a handful of innings in right field. As you may expect, he’s not toolsy and scouts aren’t impressed with his mobility or throwing skills behind the plate. However, his stats aren’t terrible; he’s thrown out 34% of runners in his career, his error and passed ball rates are acceptable, and he gets good comments for his leadership skills. The main negatives: he’s old, and his plate discipline slipped in Triple-A. Still, it seems to me that there are a lot of teams this guy could help. If he can hit .250 with some power, play adequate defense behind the plate, and sub occasionally at first base and corner outfield, there should be room for him somewhere. Grade C but I like him as a role player.

As you know he received a brief trial with the Rays in 2012, then bounced between Triple-A and the majors with the Athletics in 2013 and 2014. His .279/.321/.431 line last year was enough to keep him in the picture for 2015 and he's certainly made the most of it, hitting .307/.410/.598 through 156 plate appearances.

Key observations:

****Eno Sarris makes note of various adjustments Vogt has made in his hitting approach over the years, trying to find the right balance between selectivity and aggression. He seems to have found that balance.

****He's turned out to be a decently solid defensive catcher, good enough to hold his job at any rate. Vogt gives much credit to tutoring sessions from Jose Molina and coach Marcus Jensen. The interesting thing here is that despite spending much of his career in the outfield and at first base, his minor league defensive catching statistics were always pretty good, even if the scouting reports weren't.

****One of the main problems for Vogt as a prospect was age-relative-to-league, which caused many observers (including this one) to discount his chances. This is another reminder that while ARTL is a very important part of a prospect's profile, it is possible to over-emphasize it.

****The pure sabermetrics indicated that Vogt was a player to watch closely as early as 2007 but I didn't pay enough attention until he reached the high minors. Back in the 1990s when my approach was almost entirely sabermetric, I would have keyed on him more quickly. This is one of the "learn from this" cases that has moved my philosophy back towards sabermetrics in recent years.

****Is he "really" a .300 hitter with this kind of power? His career line now stands at .266/.326/.442, which is about what you'd expect with an MLE translation of his minor league numbers. My guess is that what we are currently seeing is his peak season, but that he'll remain a productive hitter for a few years beyond this.

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