18 Jun 19
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LOS ANGELES — It’s never easy for a baseball player to serve as a backup to one of the most popular players in franchise history.
It’s even more difficult when the job requires you to replace one of the most popular players in a team’s clubhouse.
Lifelong Giants fan Stephen Vogt is thriving anyway.
As the backup to catcher Buster Posey and the man filling a vacancy left by 2017 Willie Mac Award winner Nick Hundley, Vogt has one of the most challenging roles on the San Francisco Giants.
When he plays, Vogt must produce at the plate like Posey to satisfy the Giants fan base and inspire confidence in pitchers like Hundley did to please a veteran pitching staff.
In fewer than two full months on the Giants’ roster, Vogt is exceedingly popular. Just ask the team’s best starter.
“That’s definitely the fastest and easiest transition with another catcher besides Buster,” ace Madison Bumgarner said. “Even the first game I threw to him, it was pretty quick that it started clicking for us.”
Like Hundley, Vogt admits he’s not an elite defender behind the plate. While many backup catchers around the league are almost solely relied on for defense, Vogt’s calling card is his bat, which is especially valuable against right-handed pitchers.
In 72 at-bats this season, he’s hitting .264 with a .783 on-base plus slugging percentage, numbers that put him alongside some of the best offensive catchers in the league.
In his first game with the Giants, the Visalia, Calif. native went 3-for-3 and slugged a game-tying home run with two outs in the ninth inning to help lead the team to a dramatic comeback win over the Reds. In his most recent start, Vogt went 3-for-4 and became the first Giants catcher since Steve Nicosia on July 18, 1984 to record two triples in the same game.
His offensive numbers stand out, but Vogt has earned the respect of his peers through his willingness to develop strong relationships with each pitcher on the staff.
“The best thing I feel like I’ve done is my relationship with pitchers,” Vogt said. “I’m not the best defensive catcher, I’m not the best receiver, blocker or thrower. But for me, I try to give every ounce I have every time I’m back there for the pitcher.”
As Posey returns from a hamstring injury that sidelined him for a week, manager Bruce Bochy said the Giants are trying to ease him back into action. Bochy said Monday that doing so is easier because of Vogt’s presence as Bumgarner isn’t the only pitcher who feels confident working with Vogt.
“He fits in well here, he’s popular, but more importantly, pitchers are comfortable throwing to him,” Bochy said. “(Tyler) Beede had him in Sacramento, so he knows him from there, Anderson too, even Bumgarner, I’ve let him catch Bum a couple of times.”
Opting to allow Hundley to walk in free agency and signing Vogt to a minor league deal was one of the first gambles president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi made during his tenure. Hundley is beloved by many current Giants and Vogt missed the entire 2018 season as he recovered from shoulder surgery, but both could have been signed to minor league deals.
Zaidi chose Vogt, who would not be ready for Opening Day as his shoulder rehab continued.
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The decision has paid off so far as Vogt has given the Giants a solid left-handed hitting option behind Posey while Hundley was hitting .200 in 70 at-bats before he was placed on the Oakland A’s injured list with back spasms.
Some Giants fans would prefer the club to evaluate 26-year-old Triple-A catcher Aramis Garcia in a reserve role, and it’s possible the organization will have a chance to do so. Vogt may be an attractive asset to a contending club looking for a mid-summer trade, but a deal would require the Giants to part with a player who has suddenly provided good value at a key position.
Vogt grew up attending Giants games and has loved his time with the franchise, but even if the Giants do hang onto him, his contract will expire at the end of the year.
The 2019 season may not be the last we see of Vogt with the Giants, however, as there’s a role Bochy and many of his teammates believe he could fill down the line.
When his career ends, Vogt should immediately be a popular managerial candidate.