MESA, Ariz. – Kyle Schwarber and first base prospect Dan Vogelbach were on the same field at the same time the other day for the Cubs, disrupting the neural activity of dozens of Cub fans pressed against the rail from dugout to dugout.
“Hey, Schwarber!” shouted fans seeking autographs when they initially saw Vogelbach on the field. “Schwarber!”
Vogelbach, who’s been through this since he and Schwarber were minor-league teammates, smiled and turned to show the back of his jersey.
“Oh, it’s Dan!” one voice could be heard saying.
The shouts resumed: “Dan! Dan! Come and sign!”
It’s become a running joke at Cubs spring training, with Vogelbach joining Schwarber in big-league camp for the first time.
They’re the Cubs’ doppelganger sluggers – both young left-handed hitters shaped like 6-foot boulders with tufts of blondish chin hair. That they’re roommates for the spring means they spend an especially large amount of time in the vicinity of each other, continually creating mistaken-identity moments.
“People do it all time,” Vogelbach said. “I’m used to it. I could have a lot worse comparisons.”
The trick will be keeping the comparisons coming as he progresses into Class AAA this season and then, presumably, the big leagues.
The bigger trick might be doing it with the Cubs.
Vogelbach, 23, is a first baseman without a second position and no reason to think the designated hitter rule is coming to the National League anytime soon.
“Obviously, [Anthony] Rizzo’s the first baseman for the Chicago Cubs, and that’s not going to change,” said Vogelbach, who has a .382 career on-base percentage and .855 OPS in the minors since being drafted in the second round in 2011. “I just go out every day, and I play hard. And for me to be in the big leagues I have to perform.
“Whether there’s a spot for me with the Cubs or – that’s what I want to do; I want to play in Chicago and help this team win a World Series. So I’m going to play hard and perform, and wherever the chips fall, that’s where it’s going to happen.”
For now, he’s in Mesa, working in the early days of camp alongside Rizzo, spending all of camp with at least a small sense of what it might be like to be that young big-league hitter that captures the imagination of fans – fans who will know his name without having to see the back of his jersey.
“He’s done a lot of work this offseason to improve his swing,” said Schwarber, who knows all about Vogelbach’s work ethic and talent as teammates and roommates at high-A Daytona in 2014 and AA Tennessee the first half of 2015. “It’s been looking good.”
“And Rizzo’s kind of been taking me under his wing a little bit with helping me at first base,” Vogelbach said. “He doesn’t have to do that. He’s got better things to worry about, but I appreciate it. And that’s what I’m here to do. I’m here to really work on first base, put extra time into fielding and continue hitting the way I’ve been doing.”
Hamstring and oblique injuries last season put Vogelbach on the disabled list for the first time in his career, costing him about half the season. But he produced when he played (.272 with a .403 OBP and 24 extra-base hits in 76 games), and he’s healthy and stronger this year, he said.
He even did an especially good impersonation of Schwarber in their game together, driving a two-out, ground-rule double to the opposite-field gap to drive home the Cubs’ only run of the game.
“It was definitely cool to have him in the lineup and have him hit the RBI double,” said Schwarber, who went hitless and wouldn’t have minded being mistaken for Vogelbach.