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Did the Cubs make an error on Vogelbach?


Daniel Vogelbach, who has been at the center of the Seattle Mariners’ early-season success, was a member of the Cubs’ Class AA Tennessee Smokies. (photo by Mike Morrow)

It’s hard not to look at the struggles of the Chicago Cubs and the blazing start of the Seattle Mariners and wonder if the Cubs regret letting Daniel Vogelbach get away.

The Cubs traded Vogelbach in 2016. It’s not hard to see why. They had a promising first baseman in Anthony Rizzo, so where would a guy like Vogelbach play? Vogelbach is a first baseman and, listed at 6-0, 250 pounds, there wouldn’t appear to be many options for him defensively. Since joining the Mariners, Vogelbach has played only first base and served as a designated hitter.

He is hammering the baseball, leading the Mariners in both batting average, .378, and home runs, with six, and is a major reason why Seattle has jumped out to lead the American League West. They are one of the surprise teams of the early season.

Vogelbach has always looked the part, going back to his days with the Class AA Tennessee Smokies. He was a hulking figure. But his numbers didn’t exactly look like what Vogelbach’s numbers are today. In 2015, playing for Tennessee, in 76 games he batted .272 with seven home runs. He is doing far better for an American League club. Although he has appeared with the Mariners sporadically since 2016, he is still officially a rookie. He’s 26.

Vogelbach was traded by the Cubs to the Mariners along with right-handed pitcher Paul Blackburn for left-handed pitcher Mike Montgomery and right-hander Jordan Pries. Montgomery would become the man who pitched the final out of the Cubs’ historic World Series victory.

Today, the Cubs are tied for last place with Cincinnati in the National League Central Division, four games behind the defending division champion Milwakee Brewers. The Mariners have a one-game lead over the second-place Houston Astros in the American League West.

For the Cubs, Kris Bryant is batting .231, Kyle Schwarber .192, Albert Almora Jr. .244. Javier Baez .262, and oh yes, Rizzo is batting .192. Those numbers won’t last long. There is too much talent in the players swinging the bats. But Vogelbach’s start has to jump out at the Cubs, much like the Mariners’ start has jumped out at the rest of baseball. The safest call at this point is that the Cubs will play far better as the season goes on and that the Mariners won’t. But a team can get hot in April and do some remarkable things, and a club that struggles in April can dig itself a hole.

Vogelbach was drafted by the Cubs in the second round in 2011 out of Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers, Fla. He was part of that group the Cubs groomed together through the minors to reach the franchise’s historic peak in 2016. Maybe the Cubs don’t win that 2016 World Series if they don’t make that trade, but the deal has hardly gone down as a well-known difference-maker.

Vogelbach is being noted for his plate discipline by Matt Kelly of mlb.com. He has been called the “poster boy” of the Mariners’ early success by Matt Calkins of the Seattle Times. Jeff Passan of espn.com has portrayed Vogelbach as a student of the game.

It’s hard to get attention in Seattle, unless you start the season 13-2 and get a jump on the Astros. But attention is indeed being heaped on the Mariners. A lot of it is on Vogelbach. Thus far, it’s all deserved, and it does make one wonder if this could be the start of a career for a player the Cubs could use right now.

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