If you just look at the numbers, there is no doubt that Kane County Cougars star first baseman Dan Vogelbach earned his promotion to high-Class A Daytona last week.
The Midwest League All-Star game starter missed only one game all season, hitting .284 with 21 doubles, 17 home runs and 71 RBIs in 114 games. But manager Mark Johnson dealt with Vogelbach all season, on and off the field, and he saw more than just the numbers to tell him that he was ready for the next challenge in his professional career.
“The things he did here, he had some growing pains,” Johnson said. “He went through some tough things and he overcame some difficult obstacles that at the beginning of the season, we didn’t know if he was going to be able to, and he did, whether it was on or off the field. There are some things on a maturity level that he got over. He proved to himself and us and the organization that he got better and matured. He deserved that promotion.”
He has made an immediate impact in the Florida State League as well, picking up right where he left off when he was promoted.
Through eight games, Vogelbach is hitting .296 with two home runs.
System is strong
Vogelbach and 2013 Cubs first-round pick Kris Bryant were both promoted to Daytona the same day, and both homered the next day.
Bryant is so advanced that he skipped a trip to Kane County altogether, and he is destroying Florida State League pitching to the tune of .360 and three home runs through seven games. Prized prospect Javier Baez has thrived at Class AA Tennessee after his promotion from Daytona.
That is an indication to Johnson that the system, which has been stockpiled with talent from Jim Hendry’s last draft in 2011 and less than two years of Theo Epstein’s stewardship, is ready to take off.
“It’s gotten better every year,” Johnson said of the talent level. “The last two years, the talent level position player wise has gotten a lot better. They are really starting to move. The pitchers are lagging just a little bit behind, but they’re getting ready to jump just like the position players, and they’re starting to really jump. They’re getting ready to catch up to each other. I think when that happens, it’s going to be pretty special.”
Time running out
One of the players that many expected to make one of those jumps was Cougars center fielder Albert Almora, but a string of injuries this season has limited him to only 61 games, and he may not get the chance to add to that total.
In his short time in Kane County, he has opened plenty of eyes, hitting .329 with 24 extra-base hits in only 249 at-bats. But his recent groin injury has the Cubs’ brass being very cautious, and with the season ending Sept. 2, Johnson isn’t sure if he’ll get his star player back.
“We’re running out of time,” Johnson conceded. “They’re just being super cautious. It’s kind of undetermined right now. They’re going to take another (MRI) soon and see what’s going on.
“We’ll just play it by ear. This is a tough one right at the end (of the season) where you want to finish and play those extra 30 games.”