In a somewhat surprising move, the Mariners announced that first baseman Dan Vogelbach has been optioned to Triple-A. GM Jerry Dipoto told reporters (including Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times) that veteran Danny Valencia will be the Mariners’ everyday first baseman, with utilityman Taylor Motter as the backup.
[Updated Mariners roster at Roster Resource]
Vogelbach is hitting just .228/.313/.333 over 64 plate appearances in Spring Training, which Dipoto said contributed to the decision. The slow start hasn’t removed Vogelbach from Seattle’s longer-term plans, however, as Dipoto noted that the the club is looking at the move in a similar vein as the Triple-A stints for Mike Zunino and James Paxton last season. Both players performed well after that extra bit of minor league seasoning, and given how Vogelbach has just eight big league games under his belt, it makes sense that he would get a bit of extra time at Triple-A.
Still, this move is notable since the Mariners spent much of the winter aiming to use Vogelbach as their regular first baseman against right-handed pitching. Acquired as part of the Mike Montgomery trade with the Cubs last July, Vogelbach owns an impressive .286/.391/.481 slash line and 83 homers over 2329 career PA in the minors since Chicago selected him in the second round of the 2011 draft.
While Vogelbach has drawn praise for his power and his patient approach at the plate, however, he is already showing signs of being a bat-only player at age 23, as he possesses below-average defense even at first base. His average and slugging numbers against southpaws in the minors are also well below his numbers against right-handed pitching, which is why the Mariners acquired the right-handed hitting Valencia this offseason.
Instead, Valencia now moves into an everyday role after hitting .287/.346/.446 line over 517 PA for the Athletics last season. With Shawn O’Malley sidelined for at least 10 days following an appendectomy, Motter has stepped up as the M’s top utility infield option. Ironically, first base is the spot where the versatile Motter has been the least amount of action (just 14 career games at first in the majors and minors), as he has been more regularly deployed everywhere else around the diamond except pitcher and catcher. Valencia doesn’t have impressive splits against right-handed pitching over his career and Motter is also a right-handed bat, so there’s a slim chance Seattle could explore one of the left-handed first base options (i.e. Ryan Howard, Justin Morneau or Kelly Johnson) still on the free agent market, but the far more likely scenario is that Vogelbach is promoted after a few weeks.