From the Pages of Vine Line: Put under pressure

Vogelbach-5

Dan Vogelbach had success even after a promotion to High-A Daytona. (Photo by Aldrin Capulong/Daytona Cubs)

This story originally ran in the October issue of Vine Line.

When the Cubs promoted Dan Vogelbach to High-A Daytona on Aug. 13, the slugging first baseman suddenly found himself smack in the middle of a playoff race.

The 20-year-old prospect left Low-A Kane County hitting .282 with 17 homers and a then-Midwest League-leading 71 RBI. The Cougars, however, were mired in last place in their division.

“We struggled in Kane County, but we made the best of it,” Vogelbach said. “We didn’t cash it in like a lot of other teams did. But here, everyone is looking forward to the games because we know we have a pretty good chance to win. It makes going to the park so much easier when you have something to play for.”

This year, three Cubs affiliates were in playoff position by season’s end: Daytona, which eventually claimed the Florida State League title; Double-A Tennessee, which won the second-half Southern League North Division; and Short-Season Boise, which went 20-18 in the second half to clinch a spot in the Northwest League playoffs.

Minor league coaching staffs do all they can to help athletes prepare for the big leagues, but nothing simulates the day-to-day intensity at the top like a playoff run.

“Guys get to learn how to control their adrenaline,” said Daytona manager Dave Keller, who joined the Cubs organization in 2004 and has led two minor league teams to the postseason. “They can learn how to slow the game down in pressure situations. These are things that can happen only when you’re playing in a playoff atmosphere with more at stake.”

Something else also tends to happen in a playoff push. Players who usually pay close attention to their stats—because better numbers naturally get them closer to their big league dreams—turn their focus to wins and losses.

The Cubs promoted 2013 first-round pick Kris Bryant to Daytona the same day as Vogelbach. The third baseman had been playing in Boise after finishing up his college career at the University of San Diego, where he experienced a similar team-first ethos.

“You get the sense that everyone wants to win, and we’re all here for one another,” Bryant said. “If I’m focusing on helping the team, it’s only going to help me be a better player.”

Ultimately, the added pressure of a playoff race is a great teaching tool, because players learn what it’s like to play high-intensity baseball.

“Every pitch and every out gets magnified more,” Keller said. “These guys may say they don’t feel the pressure, but I know they take pride in their at-bats and innings pitched and everything else.”

Keller said he expected all his players, Vogelbach and Bryant included, to dial up their intensity for the postseason. That’s because the skipper knows one day, when these prospects are playing October baseball at Wrigley Field, they’ll have that experience to draw from.

—Chris Gigley

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