Mariners spring training countdown: Can Vogelbach hold down 1B?

Former prized prospect Dan Vogelbach will be given the chance to win the Mariners' starting first base job in spring training, but will he be able to prove he handle the role defensively?Former prized prospect Dan Vogelbach will be given the chance to...Pitchers...

Mariners spring training countdown: Can Vogelbach hold down 1B?

Former prized prospect Dan Vogelbach will be given the chance to win the Mariners' starting first base job in spring training, but will he be able to prove he handle the role defensively?

Former prized prospect Dan Vogelbach will be given the chance to...

Pitchers and catchers report to the Seattle Mariners' spring training home at the Peoria Sports Complex in Peoria, Arizona, on Feb. 14. Until then, we'll be previewing some of the biggest storylines facing the club in 2017.

Today's topic: Can rookie Dan Vogelbach end the M's rotating door at first base?

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Justin Smoak was one of the most disappointing players in recent Mariners history, but at least he had staying power.

After being acquired via blockbuster trade in July 2010, the former first-round pick went on to play 496 games at first base over parts of five seasons. Since he left the team in October 2014, a mish-mash of players have auditioned for the role of Seattle's everyday first baseman, but none of them -- from Logan Morrison, Jesus Montero and Mark Trumbo in 2015 to Adam Lind and Dae-Ho Lee last year -- has earned an encore performance the next season.

That won't change in 2017, but instead of trying to fill the void at first with another veteran retread, Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto will give youngster Dan Vogelbach a long look at the position.

Vogelbach, who turned 24 in December, displayed an advanced approach at the plate last year, batting .292 with 23 home runs, 25 doubles and 97 walks against 101 strikeouts in 563 Triple-A plate appearances in 2016. He can hit for contact and power, and he controls the strike zone, a trait valued by Seattle's braintrust.

He steadily worked his way through the minors following his selection in the second round of the 2011 draft, which is why Dipoto brought him to the Emerald City on July 20 -- along with minor league pitcher Paul Blackburn in exchange for lefty reliever Mike Montgomery and minor league pitcher Jordan Pries -- with the idea he could bring his impact bat to the lineup right away.

"Vogey can hit," Dipoto said during the team's pre-spring training media luncheon last month. "He's done everything you can do at the minor league levels. He's raked at every level. At some point you've got to give guys opportunities to break through."

Dipoto and manager Scott Servais will obviously be interested to see how Vogelbach performs at the plate during his first spring training with the club in Peoria, but it will be his ability to defend that will ultimately decide what kind of role he has with the M's in 2017.

"It's really important," Servais said. "I think first base defense goes overlooked at times. You really pick up the other infielders, whether it's just balls that are in the dirt or just being able to make the plays over there. That will be the real focus. ... (Vogelbach is) working his tail off, but he knows that's the one thing that could hold him back. We'll see how he does at spring training."

The 6-foot, 250-pound left-handed slugger was once a prized asset in a loaded Chicago Cubs system, ranking among the club's top 10 prospects from 2011 to 2013. But the shine has worn off a bit thanks in large part to being perceived as a defensive liability. Some critics have labeled him strictly a designated hitter, and with Nelson Cruz filling that role for the Mariners, Vogelbach has to prove he can earn his keep on the diamond.

"I think what we're looking to see from him is can he can be a major league caliber defender at first base," Servais said. "I'm not talking about Gold Glove defender, just major league caliber defender at first base."

Photos: Recapping M's offseason moves

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Nov. 3, 2016:
Five players from the Mariners' 2015 squad: first basemen Dae-Ho Lee (above) and Adam Lind, outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, catcher Chris Ianetta and right-handed pitcher Drew Storen become free agents. Letting Lee and Lind walk means the team will be looking to give rookie Dan Vogelbach a long look at first base in the spring.

Nov. 3, 2016:
Five players from the Mariners' 2015 squad: first basemen Dae-Ho Lee (above) and Adam Lind, outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, catcher Chris Ianetta and right-handed pitcher Drew Storen become free

Nov. 3-4, 2016:
Seattle was also involved in a couple of waiver deals in the first days of the offseason, the most notable of which involved outfielder Nori Aoki (above) being claimed by the division-rival Houston Astros on Nov. 3. Aoki played in 118 games with the Mariners in 2015, slashing .339/.390/.500 over 51 gams in the second half of the season. The Mariners claimed left-handed reliever Dean Kiekhefer from the Cardinals the next day. 

Nov. 3-4, 2016:
Seattle was also involved in a couple of waiver deals in the first days of the offseason, the most notable of which involved outfielder Nori Aoki (above) being claimed by the division-rival

Nov. 7, 2016:
Dipoto's first offseason trade came when he shipped reliever Vidal Nuno to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for veteran catcher Carlos Ruiz (above). Ruiz, who will be 38 by the time spring training starts, was an All-Star with the Phillies in 2012 and should at least provide some veteran leadership while splitting duties with Mike Zunino in 2017.

Nov. 7, 2016:
Dipoto's first offseason trade came when he shipped reliever Vidal Nuno to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for veteran catcher Carlos Ruiz (above). Ruiz, who will be 38 by the time spring

Nov. 12, 2016:
Dipoto's next deal came a few days later, when he acquired infielder Danny Valencia (above) from the Oakland A's in exchange for minor league pitcher Paul Blackburn. The 32-year-old Valencia spent most of his seven-year major-league career at third base, but he could be the right-handed portion of a platoon at first base along with the left-handed Vogelbach.

Nov. 12, 2016:
Dipoto's next deal came a few days later, when he acquired infielder Danny Valencia (above) from the Oakland A's in exchange for minor league pitcher Paul Blackburn. The 32-year-old Valencia spent

Nov. 18, 2016:
Less than a week later, Dipoto pulled off two deals, the first of which secured left-handed reliever James Pazos (above) from the New York Yankees in exchange for minor-league arm Zach Littell. The 25-year-old Pazos has limited major-league experience (just 8 1/3 innings over two stints with the Yankees), but he will be given a chance to earn a spot in Seattle's bullpen in the spring.

Nov. 18, 2016:
Less than a week later, Dipoto pulled off two deals, the first of which secured left-handed reliever James Pazos (above) from the New York Yankees in exchange for minor-league arm Zach Littell.

Nov. 18, 2016:
The second trade of the day for Dipoto was a five-player deal with Tampa Bay that netted third baseman Richie Shaffer and shortstop Taylor Motter (above) in exchange for minor leagers Andrew Kittredge, Dalton Kelly and Dylan Thompson. Shaffer was then claimed off waviers by Philadelphia. Motter doesn't figure to be a key part of the big league club in 2017, but he gives Seattle some infield depth and flexibility.

Nov. 18, 2016:
The second trade of the day for Dipoto was a five-player deal with Tampa Bay that netted third baseman Richie Shaffer and shortstop Taylor Motter (above) in exchange for minor leagers Andrew

Nov. 18, 2016:
On what turned out to be a very busy day, the Mariners also released outfielder Stefen Romero (above) so the former Oregon State star, who appeared in 94 games with Seattle since 2014, could pursue playing in Japan. The M's also added former top prospect D.J. Peterson and left-hander Paul Fry to the 40-man roster from Triple-A Tacoma, while left-hander David Rollins was claimed off waivers by the Chicago Cubs.

Nov. 18, 2016:
On what turned out to be a very busy day, the Mariners also released outfielder Stefen Romero (above) so the former Oregon State star, who appeared in 94 games with Seattle since 2014, could

Nov. 22, 2016:
After being designated for assignment 10 days earlier, right-handed reliever Tom Wilhelmsen (above), aka "The Bartender," was released. A former Mariners closer, Wilhelmsen was a fan favorite and played well in his midseason return to Seattle after being traded away in the deal that netted Leonys Martin a year ago.

Nov. 22, 2016:
After being designated for assignment 10 days earlier, right-handed reliever Tom Wilhelmsen (above), aka "The Bartender," was released. A former Mariners closer, Wilhelmsen was a fan favorite and

Nov. 23, 2016:
Dipoto's boldest deal came on Thanksgiving eve, when he sent former prized prospect Taijuan Walker and young shortstop Ketel Marte to Arizona for shortstop Jean Segura (above), outfielder Mitch Haniger and left-hander Zac Curtis. Segura led the National League in hits with 203 in 2016, when he also slugged a career-high 20 home runs, but giving up on Walker, who was once viewed as a potential ace-in-waiting, was a risky move. 

Nov. 23, 2016:
Dipoto's boldest deal came on Thanksgiving eve, when he sent former prized prospect Taijuan Walker and young shortstop Ketel Marte to Arizona for shortstop Jean Segura (above), outfielder Mitch

Nov. 28, 2016:
Dipoto continued to move away from his predecessor Jack Zduriencik (above, left) by trading away 2014 No. 6 overall pick Alex Jackson (above, right) to Atlanta in exchange for young right-handers Robert Whalen and Max Povse. Though only 20-years-old, Jackson didn't show much development in Single-A Clinton in 2016, striking out 103 times in 381 plate appearances.

Nov. 28, 2016:
Dipoto continued to move away from his predecessor Jack Zduriencik (above, left) by trading away 2014 No. 6 overall pick Alex Jackson (above, right) to Atlanta in exchange for young right-handers

Dec. 3, 2016:
The Mariners made their first major free-agent addition of the offseason with the signing of veteran left-hander Marc Rzepczynski (above), who signed a two-year, $11 million deal. In addition to making every Seattle-area sports writer nervous about spelling errors, Rzepczynski adds a veteran lefty arm to the M's pen, with youngsters like Kiekhefer, Curtis, Pazos and Fry battling for another spot.

Dec. 3, 2016:
The Mariners made their first major free-agent addition of the offseason with the signing of veteran left-hander Marc Rzepczynski (above), who signed a two-year, $11 million deal. In addition to

Dec. 7, 2016:
With the Mariners still looking for rotation help, Dipoto's last trade of 2016 netted right-handed starter Chris Heston (above) from San Francisco in exchange for a player to be named later. Heston, 28, is best known for his June 9, 2015 no-hitter versus the New York Mets. But after struggling through an oblique injury in 2016, he became a cheap option for Dipoto to add some depth to the rotation.

Dec. 7, 2016:
With the Mariners still looking for rotation help, Dipoto's last trade of 2016 netted right-handed starter Chris Heston (above) from San Francisco in exchange for a player to be named later.

Jan. 6, 2017:
After the calendar flipped to 2017, Dipoto made a couple of deals that changed the profile of the team. First he acquired right-hander Yovani Gallardo (above), a proven innings-eater, from the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for Seth Smith. Later in the day he replaced the offensive-minded Smith with Kansas City's Jarrod Dyson, a defense and speed guy, sending right-hander Nathan Karns to the Royals.

Jan. 6, 2017:
After the calendar flipped to 2017, Dipoto made a couple of deals that changed the profile of the team. First he acquired right-hander Yovani Gallardo (above), a proven innings-eater, from the

Jan. 11, 2017:
The Mariners added depth to their bullpen and rotation on another busy day. First they shipped former top pitching prospect Luiz Gohara to Atlanta along with 2016 draft pick Thomas Burrows in exchange for reliever Shae Simmons and outfielder Mallex Smith (above). Then they shipped Smith, infielder Carlos Vargas and pitching prospect Ryan Yarbrough to Tampa Bay for left-handed starter Drew Smyly.

Jan. 11, 2017:
The Mariners added depth to their bullpen and rotation on another busy day. First they shipped former top pitching prospect Luiz Gohara to Atlanta along with 2016 draft pick Thomas Burrows in

Jan. 27, 2017:
With the major offseason moves done, Dipoto continued to tweak with the fringes of the roster, claiming catcher Tuffy Gosewisch off waivers from Arizona, then trading minor league catcher Jason Goldstein to Oakland for left-hander Dillon Overton. To make room for Gosewisch and Overton on the 40-man roster, Seattle designated catcher Jesus Sucre and reliever Jonathan Aro for assignment. Sucre was then traded to Tampa Bay in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations on Feb. 8.

Jan. 27, 2017:
With the major offseason moves done, Dipoto continued to tweak with the fringes of the roster, claiming catcher Tuffy Gosewisch off waivers from Arizona, then trading minor league catcher Jason

Dipoto put together a contingency plan in case Vogelbach's glove proves inadequate, shipping Blackburn to the Oakland Athletics in November in exchange for utilityman Danny Valencia, a lifetime .321 hitter versus left-handers over a seven-year MLB career, most of which has been played at third base.

Seattle would ideally love to play the veteran right-hander in a platoon with Vogelbach, leaving him available to play a utility role on the days Vogelbach starts at first. But Valencia could be counted upon to be the team's regular first baseman in a pinch, even though he's played only 43 games at the position in the big leagues.

"Danny is there as a veteran guy," Dipoto said. "Effectively he can play every game. He's been excellent against left-handed pitching. He's also been very good against righties for the last couple years, and we're confident that first base will be an easy transition for him defensively, comparatively speaking."

Valencia's presence gives the team some insurance if Vogelbach struggles, but the team's everyday first base job appears to be the rookie's to lose this spring.

Visit seattlepi.com for more Seattle Mariners news. Contact sports reporter Stephen Cohen at stephencohen@seattlepi.com or @scohenPI

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