When the Oakland A's traded for Stephen Vogt last week, it was a homecoming of sorts for the catcher.
"To have a lot of family and friends and things like that, it's nice to be that close to where I grew up," Vogt said. "It's an exciting opportunity for me and my family."
The Visalia, Calif. native looked right at home in his Sacramento debut, going 3-for-4 with a home run and a pair of doubles. He even had his wife Alyssa and daughter Payton in the stands. Payton sat behind the plate after the game and pretended to catch top prospect Sonny Gray, just like her dad had minutes before.
While Vogt's transition to Oakland's organization makes things easier for Payton and the rest of the family, Vogt will face the difficulties of getting to know his new family for the summer: the pitching staff he is catching for the first time.
"That's my job as a catcher – to get to know them pretty fast," Vogt said. "It's going to be kind of a slow learning process. Hopefully it's just one time through and I've seen everybody and hopefully I can get comfortable."
The challenge of developing chemistry with unfamiliar battery-mates is often forgotten. In the minor leagues, with players constantly making adjustments, the pitcher-and-catcher relationship can be strained.
But when Gray got off to a rocky start in Sunday's outing, Vogt worked with him and pitching coach Rick Rodriguez to come up with a solution. Gray went on to shutout the Las Vegas 51s for six innings, allowing just two hits.
"We talked today when we got here, and we met this morning, it's something that you have to deal with and try to get on the same page as much as possible," Gray said. "He's a really good guy, I think he caught the ball really well, especially for day one."
Sacramento manager Steve Scarsone lauded Vogt for his defensive game behind the plate and his impact with the bat. The River Cats entered the game looking for their first win and Vogt's three hits went a long way toward helping the offense to it's most impressive showing of the young season.
Vogt comes to the A's having played all over the field throughout his minor league career. He was Tampa Bay's minor league player of the year in 2011, when he combined to hit .298/.335/.494 between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham.
That effort helped Vogt break camp with the major league team to start 2012, but the left-handed hitter struggled at the plate and went hitless in 27 plate appearances with two walks. That brief stint clearly didn't enamor the Rays, who already had two 30-year-old catchers at Triple-A in Craig Albernaz and Chris Gimenez behind Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton with the major league team. Vogt is 28, which isn't ideal for a prospect.
Vogt has played more games in left field than catcher in his six-year minor league career but hopes he can stay at catcher to allow him to make improvements defensively.
"With the Tampa Bay organization I didn't always get a lot of games during the season," Vogt said. "It's going to be learning to catch more consistently every day. My strengths are definitely receiving the ball and my throwing is coming along.
"Just having the opportunity to catch and getting more comfortable and having that catcher's mindset, whereas before I'd get to the park [and find out] if I was playing outfield, first base or catcher that night."
The former 12th-round pick threw out his first attempted base stealer Sunday, showing quick feet and a good release, although he had the benefit of throwing off a high fastball.
The A's were thin at catching depth in the upper levels, so adding Vogt, who has a solid .299/.360/.448 career slash line in the minor leagues, enhances the organization's depth at the position. The A's have shown a propensity in recent seasons to find low-cost players they believe can excel in the right situation, much like Brandon Moss last season.
With John Jaso and Derek Norris firmly implanted at catcher on the major league team, Vogt won't be getting to the major leagues without a major injury or trade at the position. But he is the third catcher on the 40-man roster, putting him close to a return to the big leagues.