By Matthew Harrington
When the Oakland Athletics broke camp in March, they did so leaving behind third-string catcher Stephen Vogt. The omission of Vogt came as no surprise. It was a difficult decision, and Vogt may well have been the last player left off the roster, but he feel victim to the numbers crunch. In the offseason, General manager Billy Beane acquired left-handed hitting John Jaso to compliment righty Derek Norris. Jaso, a prototypical Athletic if ever there was one, gets on base, works well inserted in and out of the line-up and provides some sock of the bench. His arrival rendered Vogt, a lefty himself, superfluous despite any goodwill the unlikely hero earned by hitting a walk-off single in game two of the ALDS against Detroit last season. No, not even Vogt’s strong Spring campaign capped by a .364 batting average and three long balls could earn a spot over a player like Daric Barton or Sam Fuld when March turned to April and the dozens of players in big league camp were whittled down to 25 Athletics.
Fast forward to June 1st and you’ll see the name of a baseball battler penciled into the sixth spot on Bob Melvin’s line-up card in what would be a 6-3 Oakland win. Vogt, a veteran of eight minor league seasons, went 0-for-4 for the green but despite a rocky 2014 debut, the 29-year-old backstop returns to the A’s with confidence.
Certainly, Vogt’s promotion from Triple A came out of necessity. AL West-leading Oakland opens a three-game set at Yankee Stadium with question marks surrounding the health of starting right fielder Josh Reddick (hyperextended right knee) and clean-up hitter Brandon Moss (strained right calf). Vogt’s presence allows Jaso to split time at designated hitter in Moss’ stead while not surrendering the platoon advantage against right-handers (of which Oakland will see in two-of-three games in the Bronx). Vogt, a veteran with over 50 games of experience at first, catcher and left field, also provides some depth in the outfield and first base while granting Derek Norris some relief behind the dish.
The call-up, as brief or as long as it can be, also serves as the carrot on a string, the reward for Vogt’s impressive start with the River Cats. At the time of his promotion, Vogt had an impressive .364/.412/.602 line (including a .413 average against right-handers) with Sacramento, building on his 2013 Pacific Coast League All-star campaign in which he hit .324 with 13 home runs. For a baseball lifer, a nomad who has toiled away in baseball outposts like Durham, Hudson Valley and Charlotte, a taste of the Show every now and then is enough to labor away on the long bus rides for months on end.
The A’s are expected to activate reliever Ryan Cook from the disabled list, possibly as early as Tuesday, meaning a corresponding roster move must be made. Depending on the long-term outlook for Reddick, Vogt could be optioned back down to Sacramento to make room for the reliever. If he’s a casualty once again of the numbers game, he’ll at least take with him a peace of mind that his performance won’t go unnoticed. If Vogt continues to hit Pacific League pitching, the Oakland brass will almost undoubtedly beckon him back to the bright lights of the Bigs before season’s end.