Prospect Vogt turning heads at camp

Prospect Vogt turning heads at camp

Prospect Vogt turning heads at camp
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Stephen Vogt has already made quite a name for himself in camp this spring after his comedic imitation of Joe Maddon in a film directed, produced and hosted by Carlos Pena.

But the 27-year-old catching prospect has made the biggest impression with his play, both behind the plate and as a hitter, where he's batting .357 (10-for-28) in 12 spring games with three doubles, one triple and three RBIs.

"He has all those really nice qualities of a very good hitter," Maddon said. "His bat is very impressive and attractive. He's a good hitter, against righties and lefties. He works a good at-bat and when he's at two strikes, he's not in trouble.

"His defense has also been good. I think, for the most part, he blocks the ball well. His release [on his throws] is quick. He handles the pitchers nicely. He has a good idea of how to call the game. He has a good feel for that. He's a smart guy."

For Vogt, who won the Rays' Minor League Player of the Year award last season after hitting .298 between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham, the 2012 Grapefruit League has developed into an opportunity to not only break camp with the team, but a chance to be a major contributor.

"I've always been just the utility player and the Rays played me all over, but going into this spring, [Maddon] told me he wanted me to focus on my catching," said Vogt, who has alternated between catcher (77 games), left field (74 games) and first base (28 games) over the past two seasons. "He told me he wanted me to go through camp like I was trying to earn a spot [at catcher] and battling for a position on the team. It's evolved throughout spring, and I've been able to get a lot of work in with [Rays catching coordinator] Jamie Nelson, working on refining some different skills that I have."

After a shoulder injury in the 10th game of the 2009 season sidelined Vogt for an entire year -- and almost made him give up the game -- the Rays' 12th round selection of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft used the time to re-evaluate his game.

"Being hurt and relearning how to play and watching the game for a year and sitting back and learning, I really was able to make a lot of adjustments for the better," said Vogt, who went from batting .291 with a .776 OPS in 2008 with Class A Columbus to .345 with a .910 OPS in 2010 with High-A Charlotte.

"One of the biggest differences is that I entered camp [in 2011] having only played Single-A, and now after playing Double-A and Triple-A, I kind of feel like I am closer and [reaching the Majors] is more reachable."

It seems the biggest hurdle would be convincing his manager that he is capable of full-time duties as a catcher, considering Jose Molina would probably play between 80 and 90 games.

"The biggest thing we have to do is get him stretched out as a catcher," Maddon said. "That is a big concern, to get him stretched out, where he's used to catching 80 games, maybe more than that. You have to be comfortable with him catching maybe 80 games this year. The fact that he's only caught [a career-high of 50 combined games with Montgomery and Durham], that's not easy. Conversation-wise, it might not sound difficult, but in actuality, it is difficult. This is something where we may have to stretch him out to become that. It's almost like a young starting pitcher and stretching him out to 170 innings and eventually to 200 innings."

Maddon stated both Chris Gimenez and Jose Lobaton "have the advantage" because they have experience catching more games in a season.

Gimenez, who has spent parts of the last three seasons in the Majors, compiled a career-high 99 games at catcher in 2008 in the Minors with the Cleveland Indians. Lobaton had a career-high 90 games behind the plate with the Rays' High-A affiliate Lake Elsinore in 2007 and followed it up with 86 games in 2008.

Nevertheless, Maddon is excited about what Vogt brings to the table.

"It's no big secret," Maddon said. "Vogt is a very attractive bat."

Chris Girandola is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.