“I Believe In Stephen Vogt” was a popular chant amongst the A’s faithful in the right field bleachers during the 2014 season. This season, the Athletics management has unofficially adopted the same mantra by trading away All-Star catcher Derek Norris and left-handed platoon mate John Jaso, in favor of a catching core led by Vogt, the same man who once took 33 at-bats to get his first major league hit, a home run against the Cardinals.
Last season, Vogt did not make the opening day roster despite having a fantastic spring and having one of the A’s biggest playoff hits in recent memory. The A’s were simply too deep to carry three catchers on the roster. Norris was seen as the rising star and Jaso could flat out hit. However, Vogt was called up quickly on June 1st and stayed the rest of the season, giving the A’s a solid .279/.321/.431 slash while appearing in 84 games. This season, Vogt will be asked to handle Oakland’s talented staff that includes Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, and up to eight other pitchers competing for three open starting spots. Those include Jesse Chavez, Drew Pomeranz, Jesse Hahn, Kendall Graveman, and Barry Zito.
However, Vogt is coming off an injury that limited him from the catching position most of the season; he saw a lot of time in the outfield and at first base in 2014. A healthy Vogt not only is the A’s best option at catcher but his versatility gives manager Bob Melvin a chance to move him into the outfield when Coco Crisp or another guys needs a day off. The A’s are banking on a healthy Vogt..
Vogt’s presumed platoon-mate will be the largely unproven Josh Phegley. Phegley played in 65 games for the White Sox in 2013, but in 2014 played in just 11. He has yet to hit consistently at the major league level and has struggled to stay above the Mendoza line. Billy Beane and the A’s are confident in him and his catching abilities.
The only other viable catching option the A’s have at the minor league level is Bryan Anderson. Anderson made his big league debut back in 2010 while he was part of the Cardinals organization. In 15 games that season, he hit .281/.314/.344. Fast forward to 2014, when Anderson hit .320/.397/.538 for 3 minor league teams at the Double-A and Triple-A levels. He is next in line if an injury to Phegley or Vogt were to occur.
With such little catching depth this season, don’t be surprised if Beane were to go out and acquire some catchers for minor league depth as the Athletic’s Triple-A affiliate, Nashville Sounds, appear to be thin at the position as well.
One thing is clear: the A’s set out to improve themselves defensively at the position. The 2014 wild-card game against the Royals seemed to be a sure win for the A’s, who were up 7-3 in the eighth inning, until catcher Geovany Soto left the game with an injured thumb and All-Star Derek Norris had to take over catching duties. Norris, who had shoulder issues at the time, could not throw the speedy Royals out. They ran on him for six steals in the eighth inning. His shaky defense played a major factor in the Athletics eventually losing the game in extra innings. It definitely left a sour taste in the front office’s mouths to say the least. The young Phegley brings a reputation of having a strong arm and plus defensive skills with him to Oakland’s spring training camp. Vogt is now close to fully healthy and says he is dedicated to stopping the run.
Helping out the cause is the fact that many of the pitchers who were opposed to watching the run and opposed to pick-off attempts are gone. Two of those were Jon Lester and Luke Gregerson, who signed with the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros respectively.
“It’s obvious some of the pitchers we had here last year weren’t the best at holding runners. The pitchers we have now are all good at holding down the running game.” – Stephen Vogt
Those include Sonny Gray, who proved to be quite the defensive pitcher ranking third in Range Factor per nine innings and per game. Scott Kazmir is a left-hander so he has an obvious advantage towards stopping the run. Even reliever Ryan Cook has said that he has seen over the past season and a half how stopping the run can affect the outcome of the game.
With a new mindset and a new catching core, the Athletics are looking forward to a promising new season.