AZUSA, Calif. -- An outstanding first half to his first season at the Double-A level landed former Azusa Pacific baseball great Stephen Vogt on his second straight all-star roster at last week’s Southern League All-Star Game in Jackson, Tenn.
“It’s really a great honor to be recognized as an all-star in your league,” Vogt said. “With some of the prospects that were there, it was neat to be a part of it and I consider it a big honor. Last year (at the Florida State League All-Star Game) our entire coaching staff and what seemed like most of our team was there, but this year there were only five of us, so it was a different experience (this year) getting to know some of the other players.”
Vogt’s selection also marked the fourth straight year that at least one of the 10 former Cougars who have been drafted or signed by MLB organizations since 2005 have represented their club in a midseason minor league all-star game. Vogt was also one of the eight Southern League All-Stars selected to participate in the Home Run Derby event as part of the All-Star festivities.
“It’s a number of things (that lead to success in the pros), but a lot has to do with the process Coach Svagdis teaches, to stick with it and be consistent in the way you do what you’re doing,” Vogt said. “The experience at Azusa Pacific equipped all of us to play professional baseball, and the professional success of the players is a testament to the coaching staff, the school, and the guys who have played there and taken that program to the current level.”
Through June 28, Vogt ranked 12th in the Southern League in batting with a .310 average (91-for-294) for the Rays’ Double-A affiliate Montgomery Biscuits, and his 66-RBI total is second in the league and sixth in all of minor league baseball this season. Only three players among the top 40 minor-league run-producers have struck out fewer times this year than Vogt, who has struck out only 36 times while smashing a career-high nine home runs in the first half of his fifth professional campaign.
In 2009, Vogt suffered a season-ending injury just 10 games into the year at Class A Advanced Charlotte, but he returned the following season to win the Florida State League batting title (.345) and earn 2010 midseason and postseason all-star recognition.
“Being an all-star has been a special experience for me after getting hurt early in my career and falling behind some of the other prospects,” Vogt said. “To be able to turn it around and be named an all-star two years in a row is a great honor. I have had so much fun, and just having a job in this environment is phenomenal. I’m enjoying every minute of it.”
Vogt, a 2011 Double-A All-Star, sits just one level below Triple-A, where a trio of former Cougars have played for MLB affiliates this year. Among them is Kirk Nieuwenhuis, the New York Mets’ 2008 third-round draft pick who was listed as one of the top five Mets prospects according to MLB.com (No. 4) and Baseball America (No. 5), and ESPN’s Keith Law. Nieuwenhuis, who played in 19 games of 2011 Major League spring training, is hitting a career-best .298 (56-for-188) with 33 runs, 17 doubles, and 6 home runs for the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons. Nieuwenhuis was featured in the summer edition of APU Life.
Earlier this month, Nieuwenhuis was joined in Triple-A by Brandon Sisk, the Kansas City Royals’ 2009 Class A Advanced pitcher of the year. After posting nine saves in 40 appearances last year en route to a Texas League All-Star appearance at Double-A Northwest Arkansas, Sisk opened 2011 in Double-A after making three appearances for the Royals during Major League spring training. He averaged a strikeout per inning in 16 Double-A appearances while limiting opposing hitters to a .225 average, prompting a promotion to Triple-A Omaha in early June, where he has logged a 1.69 ERA through five appearances, including four consecutive scoreless outings.
Jason Ray, a 2005 draftee of the Oakland Athletics, advanced to Double-A in the A’s organization before he was released late last season, but the 26-year old righthander was picked up for a minor league deal by the San Diego Padres this season. He posted a 1.38 ERA in his first 10 appearances for Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore, then struck out five in three innings at Double-A San Antonio to earn a call-up to Triple-A Tucson.
Ray struck out seven batters in six appearances totaling 6.1 innings for Tucson before he was reassigned to Lake Elsinore, where he struck out the side in a perfect inning in his return to Class A Advanced. On the year, he has recorded 30 strikeouts in 23.1 innings across three levels of minor league baseball, including a 1.13 ERA with 19 strikeouts in 16 innings for Lake Elsinore.
Also returning to professional baseball this spring was Scott Hodsdon, who joined the independent-league El Paso Diablos of the American Association. Hodsdon was selected the American Association’s Pitcher of the Week after firing seven shutout innings with four strikeouts in a June 25 win over Grand Prairie. He walked one and scattered three hits to lead the Diablos to the 14-0 win, his first victory of the 2011 campaign.
Three other Cougars opened play in short-season leagues earlier in June, with Brice Cutspec starting the year with the Class A Salem-Keizer Volcanoes in the Northwest League, while Peter Gehle was the opening-day starter for the Great Falls Voyagers in the Pioneer League. Ryan Delgado, who played in two games in late May for the Atlanta Braves’ Class A Advanced affiliate in Lynchburg, returned to open the short-season campaign with Danville for the second straight year.
Azusa Pacific had nine former players play for MLB affiliates in 2010, with eight returning to MLB affiliates in 2011. The Cougars have produced 33 MLB draft selections all-time, the second-highest total of any NAIA program, and a pair of junior-college pitchers selected in the 2011 draft are headed to Azusa Pacific in the fall.