Is Vogelbach too big?

Daniel Vogelbach stands out as one of the Cubs’ top minor league prospects. Baseball America recently ranked Vogelbach As the ninth best prospect in a deep Cubs’ farm system. Not even 21 years of age, Vogelbach succeeded at Kane County (Low A) and Daytona (High A). In fact, Volgelbach sported an .895 OPS at Daytona. Despite his minor league success, Vogelbach faces a fair number of critics, not due to his performance, but due to his weight. Despite his young age, Vogelbach stands six feet tall and weighs an already prodigious 250 pounds. Some scouts even have suggested that Vogelbach may actually stand a shade under six feet and weigh a bit more than 250 (Baseball America lists Vogelback more realistically at 260 pounds).

How big is 250 pounds? In football terms, not big at all. The Chicago Bears’ linebacking corps weighs over 240 pounds each. The offensive and defensive linemen dwarf 250 pounds. Even running back Michael Bush is listed at 245 pounds. In baseball parlance, however, the comparisons are fewer and harder to find. In Cubs’ history, only one position player — seldom-used Jose Molina (19 at bats in 1999) — has weighed as much as Vogelbach. At first blush, this data would appear to be the death knell of Vogelbach’s career. Luckily for Cubs’ fans, the past ten years have seen a substantial increase in the size of baseball players. Prince Fielder, Adam Dunn, and Carlos Lee have all enjoyed successful major league careers while weighing more than Vogelbach. Similarly, David Ortiz, Jason Giambi, and Jim Thome have combined to hit almost 1,500 home runs while each weighing as much as Vogelbach.

While Cubs’ fans may find a source of optimism in Vogelbach’s modern day comparators, Vogelbach’s rather pedestrian six feet in height exacerbates his disturbingly large girth. In contrast to Vogelbach, Thome and Ortiz stand 6’4″, Lee 6’2″, Giambi 6’3″, and Dunn 6’6″. Of all the aforementioned sluggers, only Fielder at 5’11″ stands shorter than six feet. In fairness to Vogelbach, Fielder also weighs 275 pounds according to his team’s roster (a likely charitable mark at that). Nonetheless, Vogelbach’s combination of youth and poor build (it’s not all muscle) proves a cause for concern. When your one size comparator is a first baseman destined for a future designated hitter role, you clearly have limited positional flexibility. The issues caused by Vogelbach’s size cannot be understated. He simply does not have the body of a baseball player.

While his weight will remain a question for scouts, media, and fans, Vogelbach’s ability to hit the baseball ultimately will determine his major league fate. Whether he ends up playing first base or being a designated hitter remains to be seen. As evidenced above, Vogelbach’s weighty peers have each spent a significant portion of their careers as designated hitters. If Vogelbach continues to hit as he progresses through the minor leagues, and current Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo continues to develop, the Cubs will have a conundrum as neither player projects at any other position on the field. Of note, Rizzo has demonstrated excellent defensive skills at first base (leading the league in defensive runs saved by a first baseman in 2013), while Vogelbach’s defense has underwhelmed scouts. Fortunately, the Cubs have a few years to ascertain how to maximize Vogelbach’s value while measuring Rizzo’s development at the big league level. These are good concerns to have. Hopefully, the Cubs’ farm system soon will create these types of dilemmas for management on an annual basis.