As Promised, Vogt Ready For Opportunity

Rarely mentioned this off-season as being in the mix for the back-up catcher role behind Jose Molina, Stephen Vogt has been one of the big stories of Rays camp. The versatile catcher has been showcasing his lethal bat and has forced himself into the conversation of contenders for the job. But will Vogt's bat be enough to make the team? And what else does he bring to the table? Full story inside.

"If I am given the opportunity to fight for one of those positions I'll be ready," Stephen Vogt told me last Christmas Eve after just arriving home for a four day break from the Venezuelan Winter League. "If not, I'll be ready at some point during the year. I'll always stay hungry and ready for my chance to play up there."

True to his word, Vogt has indeed proven ready. Through play on Monday, he is hitting .381 in 21 at bats with 4 extra base hits and 3 runs batted in.

That the 27-year-old left-handed swinger has been good at the plate should surprise no one, as he has hit at every minor league stop of his 5 year career and owns a lifetime .305 average in the minors.

Rays manager Joe Maddon says that Vogt's bat is a known commodity and told reporter's as much after the catcher went 3-for-3 with a stand-up two-run triple against the New York Yankees last week and began to create a buzz among Rays' fans.

"Yeah he's a good hitter, that's not a surprise to us," Maddon told reporters after the game. "He can hit. He's done that his whole minor league career."

According to Maddon though, it is not Vogt's stick that is being evaluated this spring - it is his defense.

"We're trying to see more of him as a catcher right now. He's got some versatility, he can play in the field too."

Maddon continued, "He's definitely within the contending group, but I have not seen enough of him. I would like to have that guy that can do more than one thing, but that's not going to be the criteria for that particular position."

Vogt was the Rays Minor League Player of the Year in 2011 and led the organization in RBI's with 105 while hitting .298.

To this point, Vogt has only started one game behind the plate this spring, but has logged a total of 18 innings there, which is more than two of the other contenders for the back-up catching job - Chris Gimenez and Robinson Chirinos.

Over his minor league career, Vogt has a .994 fielding percentage behind the plate and has thrown out 34 percent of would-be-base-stealers and Scout.com's National Baseball Expert Frankie Pilliere thinks that Vogt has enough defensive skills to play in the majors. Furthermore, he feels he has a legitimate shot to win the job out of camp.

"I'm not sure how much of a shot, but I feel like there's a shot," said Pilliere in last week's ScoutingBaseball Live Chat when asked about Vogt's prospects of making the Rays out of camp. "I think if he hits in ST they'll give him the chance. I don't see them being afraid to go a little different route. And I think he can play the position just enough to do the trick."

Despite having the ability to play first base and in the outfield, Vogt has always considered himself a catcher first and prepares each off-season with the thought of playing behind he plate a whole season.

"I definitely consider myself a catcher first," Vogt told me in our interview last winter. "Obviously I have been playing mostly outfield and designated hitter with first base and catching right behind that. But I think of myself as a catcher first, mostly because you just never know what's going to happen over the course of a season."

"The shape that I need to be in in order to catch a full season is different than playing elsewhere for a full season. So I always prepare myself in the off-season by doing yoga and my weight-lifting and cardio are geared towards being able to catch a full season."

Vogt's bat seems to have a vote of confidence from Joe Maddon and his defensive skills are apparently still on trial, but how would his personality fit into a clubhouse that is well-known for being one of the most tight-knit in baseball?

According to Charlotte Stone Crabs' radio broadcaster Grant McAuley, who saw Vogt for two seasons in 2009 and 2010 - quite well. In fact, his leadership ability may be his best trait according to McAuley.

Vogt always keeping everybody loose. Shown here dancing between innings during a Charlotte Stone Crabs game.

"A lot gets said about that – being a great clubhouse guy," McAuley said in an interview with Rays Digest last month. "I would call Stephen Vogt a great clubhouse guy from what I got to see. It's not always going in there and banging a bat on a locker and getting the guys to break out of a slump. Stephen would do impressions and tell jokes and keep everybody loose. It was just fun to watch and fun to be around."

Vogt's impressions have been a big hit this spring as well and according to those who saw a video filmed by first baseman Carlos Pena, he does a spot-on Joe Maddon impersonation.

But it isn't just Vogt's leadership that has made an impression on McAuley, it is his drive, work ethic and overall character as well.

"Stephen had missed a lot of time in 2009," McAuley continued. "When you get to be a certain age you're no longer considered a prospect and I think that's when a lot of guys will find their way out of the game and go on to the next stage of their life. But Stephen – I give him a lot of credit – he has worked very hard and I am hoping to see him in a Rays uniform this year."

"He's just one of those guys that you can't help but to pull for him. He loves the game of baseball. He goes about it the right way. He's a team-oriented player. One of the best guys I've met in baseball is Stephen Vogt."




John Gregg is Publisher and Senior Editor of Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaysDigest. He can also be reached via e-mail at raysdigest.com@gmail.com.

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