Insider: Rays Demote Salazar, Bring Back Vogt

On Sunday, it seemed as if outfielder Jeff Salazar had a hold of the final spot on the Tampa Bay Rays’ opening day roster. On Tuesday, Jeff Salazar became a member of the Durham Bulls. Proving that you can never be sure exactly what the front office is thinking, the club re-assigned the 31-year-old to their Triple-A affiliate. In his place, they re-called spring training dynamo, Stephen Vogt.

The underdog, Salazar, making the team would have made for a nice story. Meanwhile, his inclusion on the 25-man roster would not have done much to help the team contend in 2012. He fills a role within the organization, but one that should not include 150-200 plate appearances at the major-league level.

When I last spoke about Stephen Vogt, manager Joe Maddon deemed his bat near major-league ready; however, his defense was not quite there. His skillset has not changed in the two weeks, but the Rays’ need for an additional bat off the bench has.

A left-handed batter, Vogt has hit at every level in the minor leagues. In more than 1,700 plate appearances as a minor leaguer, he owns a slash line (AVG/OBP/SLG) of .305/.362/.453. Last season, he racked up 510 plate appearances across two levels, hitting .298/.335/.494. While the results are there, his age has always been a caveat.

Drafted in the 12th round of the 2007 amateur draft, Vogt began his career as a 22-year-old in short-season A-ball. He spent the next three years at various stages of Single-A before receiving a promotion to Montgomery in 2011. He begins the 2012 season as a 27-year-old with 131 plate appearances above the Double-A level.

While many were impressed with Vogt’s bat early this spring, projection systems are not as optimistic. Dan Szymborsk’s ZiPs system projects a .255/.291/.381 line for the California native. Similarly, Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projection has Vogt’s 50th-percentile as .250/.282/.380. These systems are not perfect, but do not paint the picture of a particually effective bat.

To maximize whatever value Vogt may provide, Joe Maddon will have to strategically plan his usage. Offensively, that means he should be used mostly – if not exclusively -against right-handed pitchers. He appears to be a good fastball hitter, but has not shown the ability draw many walks. In a situation where any type baserunner is needed, meaning not necessarily just a hit, there may be better options. On defense, they will try to overcome his shortcomings by presumably limiting him to left field. He could see some time behind the plate and perhaps at first base if there was an immediate need.

If Vogt can beat the projections, and hit at the highest level, he could become a useful role player. Should he prove capable on defense, he may find a niche as a rare “slash player” with the ability to catch. That said, with B.J. Upton hoping to return during the team’s first road trip, he may have limited time to do all of the above.