I believe in Stephen Vogt. You can hear the words chanted throughout the Coliseum bleachers each time the Oakland Athletics' third-string catcher steps to the plate. The presumed source of the enthusiasm is one of the great unexpected developments of the 2014 season so far -- the journeyman backstop has played more innings in right field than he has behind the plate in his time in Oakland this year, and he hasn't looked bad doing so. The super-fans in the bleachers know how to turn it up a notch for whoever roams the turf nearest their section, and in this case Vogt got his own cheer. What's more, he's earned it.
Vogt was left off the Opening Day roster to make space for players who couldn't be stashed in Triple-A, and then he ended up missing the beginning of the season with an oblique injury anyway. Now that he's back, it's hard to make an argument for sending him back down. Obviously his red-hot start is not sustainable, as his .346/.364/.519 line is buoyed by a .364 BABIP and a lot of cheap singles. However, he makes a lot of contact (only seven K's in 55 plate appearances) and has a bit of power (two homers already, double-digit power in the minors), so he figures to be a useful, Callaspo-like hitter even if his average dips back down into the .252 range in which it dwelled last year. He also seems to have had a knack for collecting the clutch hit, although the stats suggest that he's done his best work in medium-leverage situations and in the middle innings. He slapped the winning hit through the drawn-in defense for a walk-off win in the ALDS last year, and he's come through in some desperate situations in 2014. Here he is tying a game in the eighth inning with a big double:
Here he is driving in the go-ahead run in the 11th:
Here he is homering in the ninth off of a guy whose numbers rival Sean Doolittle's in a game the A's later tied:
... and he's only been here for three weeks. He's started just 13 games.
Vogt can easily hit enough to be a worthwhile Major League catcher, but it takes more than that to make this A's roster. The flexibility that Bob Melvin craves (and thrives with) requires more from a backup than just a single position and a decent bat. That's why Vogt's new-found versatility has transformed him into a completely different player in relation to this team. Consider his positional line from Sunday's extra-inning game against Boston:
RF - 1B - RF - C
He played three positions in one game. It was the first time he'd ever played first base in the Majors, though he had some experience there in the minors. In March, the question was how Billy Beane could shift things around to fit a third catcher onto the roster, so that offensive-minded backstops Derek Norris and John Jaso could get more at-bats as designated hitters without losing the backup from the bench. However, the cost of employing platoons is that it's tough to fit everybody on the roster, and Vogt was squeezed out.
While his high batting average currently looks attractive, it's his defensive utility that makes him such a great fit for this roster. A third catcher is a luxury that the A's can't afford. But a third catcher who can also back up the outfielders when needed? And slide over to first base in a pinch? Who allows Melvin to freely use Norris/Jaso as late-inning pinch-hitters without the fear of leaving himself exposed behind the plate with no emergency option? All while hitting enough himself to be at least league-average? That's a fairly unique combination and a mighty valuable super-sub.
He's holding his own in the field, as well. Here he is throwing out a base stealer; granted, it's 42-year-old Raul Ibanez, but ignore him and look at the perfect throw that nails him by multiple steps. Norris and Jaso can't throw like that.
In the outfield, here he is coming out of nowhere to make a sliding catch.
On Sunday, Vogt's ability to move around and fill in whatever gap existed in the defense allowed Bob Melvin to pull whichever other strings were needed and to pull whichever players needed to sit out the rest of the contest. Vogt started in right because Josh Reddick is on the DL. Then he moved to first because Kyle Blanks left with a calf injury. Then he moved back to right when Melvin chose to pinch-hit for Craig Gentry with two outs in the ninth, a move which paid off in the form of a game-tying home run. However, that move cost Melvin the last catcher on his bench (Jaso), so when Norris got knocked out in the 10th by yet another wild backswing to the dome, Vogt answered the call once more by donning his familiar gear and finishing out the game behind the plate. Without his ability to move around like that, the defensive arrangements would have looked more awkward in the late innings and the game may not have reached extra innings at all. Heck, four different players took turns at first base throughout the afternoon (Blanks, Moss, Vogt, Callaspo); clearly you need to be ready for anything to have a part on this Oakland squad.
On Monday, the forces of fate that swirl around us all decided to reward Vogt after toying with him during the spring. Josh Reddick is ready to return from the DL Tuesday, and the resulting roster move was supposed to create a crunch that would cost someone a spot. Vogt was clearly on the short list to get the axe, once again. However, right as the decision loomed large, Blanks came up lame from the angry calf muscle that has hampered him for days, and on the eve of Reddick's return he was placed on the DL himself. With Blanks out of the short-term picture, no one else needs to go down to make room for Reddick.
Of course, that doesn't mean that everything will stay the same for Vogt. He's been playing a lot of right field, but now the everyday right fielder is back. In all likelihood, that means we will see more of him at first base, since the player now missing from the equation (Blanks) is the secondary first baseman. Callaspo may get some starts there as well against left-handed pitchers, though, so who knows where Vogt will find his at-bats. But he will find them, that much is for sure, because Melvin's lineups flow freely and there always needs to be a super-sub around to tie up the loose ends in the field. The A's are able to stock a sixth outfielder, a third catcher, and an emergency first baseman, all using only one roster spot. And then that guy also gets the game-tying or game-winning hit in the late innings to top things off.
Stephen Vogt is the perfect representation of this team. He's a random nobody, a minor league journeyman, who forces opposing fans Google his name after he's beaten their teams in three different ways. He'll play anywhere on the field that is asked of him, regardless of whether or not he knows how. When he comes up in a crucial spot in the game, you know he's at least going to work a tough at-bat and put the ball into play. And given his brief history in the Majors so far, there is every reason to believe that he will come through with that big RBI.
I believe a lot of things about this A's team. I believe that they will win every single day when the first pitch is thrown. I believe that they will come back every single time they trail in the late innings (or the middle innings, or the early innings). I believe that they will drive in that man from third, or squeeze out of that bases-loaded jam, or scratch out that big run in the 11th. I believe that Josh Donaldson is still the league's first-half MVP. I believe that at least five of these Athletics players are All-Stars. I believe that the AL West has already been decided, and that the A's are just spending the next three months announcing that decision to the world.
And, in addition to all that, I believe in Stephen Vogt. He's given me every reason to do so.