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Kennys Vargas Is One Reason To Keep Watching

What makes this time of year somewhat tolerable for watching Minnesota Twins baseball is getting the opportunity to see players like 24-year-old Kennys Vargas develop at the major league level.

Vargas's imposing stature grabs your attention right away. A hulking human, the Puerto Rican had tipped the scales at 280 at one point during the seasons, making him almost better suited for a defensive lineman position. Because of that, analysts have thrown around comparisons to other large hitters in history like David Ortiz and Mo Vaughn.
Ortiz is the most frequently recited comp based upon the pair's relationship that blossomed in Fort Myers and Vargas's admission that he based his left-handed swing Ortiz's. From this example -- his Futures Game double last month at Target Field -- you see the big leg-kick and hands-drop, a la Big Papi, from the left-side:

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In New Britain, Vargas displayed power from both sides of the plate but hit 11 of his 17 home runs from the left side with this swing:

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When he joined the team in Chicago, his swing was changed slightly. Though the big hand-drop before the swing was still prevalent -- as was the large leg-kick -- he had closed his stance. Most noteworthy is that the White Sox pitching staff did not let him see very many fastballs. According to ESPN/trumedia, Vargas saw 47 pitches and just 14 of those were fastballs. The vast majority were changeups and an assortment of breaking pitches:

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While the results were not bad for Vargas, his swings often produced bloops to the opposite field as the plethora of off-speed pitches disrupted his timing.

As the team returned from Chicago for a series at home against the Padres, Twins Daily reader Willihammer astutely pointed out that Vargas had altered his swing. Instead of the leg-kick and hand movement, he was keeping himself still and his weight back:

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In at least the example above, Vargas kept his weight back effectively on the hanging breaking ball and was able to send that ball effortlessly into the stadium’s overhang. The Padres, for their part, sent more fastballs Vargas’s direction than the White Sox did.

For those older fans who remembers the Twins teams at the turn of the century, this all should sound familiar. In 2001, David Ortiz was struggling to stay healthy and the Twins had him go through a series of adjustments at the plate to improve his overall approach. This from The Sporting News of that year:

“This season, the club would like to see Ortiz take advantage of the power potential in his 6-4, 230-pound frame. He has made several adjustments, including lowering his hand position in his stance and shortening his leg kick.”


After Ortiz was released, he joined the Red Sox and continued to implement his big leg-kick swing and generated plenty of power and the ability to drive the ball to all fields, like the Twins had wanted him to do.

This is not an attempt to open up old wounds from the past or berate the organization for a decision that probably still haunts them to this day, but the comparison is uncanny.

To be sure, Vargas, a player who came straight from Double-A, is coming from a league whose pitching landscape is often filled with talented power arms but are still learning to locate their secondary pitches. Many analysts will tell you that if you succeed in Double-A, you should be able to succeed at the highest level. While that may be true in some cases, developing hitters miss out on the experience gained at Triple-A where pitchers do not have the same sexy velocity as their Double-A counterparts but are able to locate breaking balls and changeups. Players like Oswaldo Arcia and Aaron Hicks both have seen what can happen when pitchers can deploy secondary pitches with precision. What Vargas learned in his weekend in Chicago is that pitchers at this level can spot a change down and away with regularity.

Hitting is an evolution and Vargas’s tweak may just be a temporary adjustment until he feels more comfortable with the mix of pitches he is now facing rather than a long-term change to his swing. Either way, Vargas represents a reason to watch the Twins even as the team wallows at the bottom of the division yet again.


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18 Comments

"This is not an attempt to open up old wounds from the past or berate the organization for a decision that probably still haunts them to this day, but the comparison is uncanny"

 

Love it and I agree. This one has been talked about at length.

This is a great article thanks Parker!

I remember when Delmon Young was being compared to Frank Robinson...

 

Not that I don't see a visual similarity between Vargas and Ortiz, I just wish we could talk about Vargas without referencing Big Papi.

    • WLFINN likes this

Tha'ts just how "comps" work. You don't hear a lot of players getting comp'd to like Scott Leius or Cleatus Davidson. 

 

The comparisons to Ortiz are real. Doesn't mean the results will be exactly the same. 99% chance they won't be. But the comp is legit.

Tha'ts just how "comps" work. You don't hear a lot of players getting comp'd to like Scott Leius or Cleatus Davidson. 

 

The comparisons to Ortiz are real. Doesn't mean the results will be exactly the same. 99% chance they won't be. But the comp is legit.

 

The comp seems primarily based on positional similarity and looks, and not so much on statistics.  Vargas has been a very good minor league hitter, but Ortiz was quite a bit better.

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Willihammer
Aug 08 2014 09:16 AM
Its hard not to be encouraged. Vargas comes up, gets peppered with offspeed stuff, makes an adjustment, then takes an offspeed pitch deep for his first HR. All within the span of a week.
    • diehardtwinsfan, jokin and Hosken Bombo Disco like this

Vargas, Santana and Hopefully May and Meyer will be reasons to keep watching in my book.

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lightfoot789
Aug 08 2014 09:48 AM

I understand that hitting coaches are supposed to teach you how to hit,  However - A power hitters swing will probably look slightly different than the contact hitters swing (maybe longer).  That being said - How many hitting coaches in the Twins organization have ever been power hitters or can talk to the art of power hitting from experience?  I don't know the answer.  I was wondering if that has anything to do with the lack of progress so many of our power hitters have at the MLB level.  I'm not saying all must know, but is there anyone along the way who speaks to the prospects about it from experience.  Carew is a special instructor in regards to hitting for contact.  So many of the managers and hitting instructors throughout the system seem to have been great AB guys but not necessarily power guys.  Who is our Power Guru?  Do we need one?  Might that be a missing element in terms of development for the following: Colabello; Arcia; Parmelee; Plouffe; Vargas; all seem to have similar flaws in terms of swing and miss at the highest level.  Is there some misconnect along the way up?  Food for thought!

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diehardtwinsfan
Aug 08 2014 11:10 AM
loved the article Nick.
    • Parker Hageman likes this

Bruno averaged about 20 HR/yr in his career, did he not?

    • Cris E and goulik like this
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Bill Parker
Aug 08 2014 12:00 PM
For those older fans who remembers the Twins teams at the turn of the century, this all should sound familiar.

 

 

I will end you, Hageman.

    • Parker Hageman and Paul Pleiss like this
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lightfoot789
Aug 09 2014 04:07 AM

Bruno averaged about 20 HR/yr in his career, did he not?

I stand corrected then. 

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AJPettersen
Aug 09 2014 11:09 AM

Nick,

 

What was the count on the shortened leg kick swing? He tends to do that with 2 strikes or sometimes makes the adjustment mid game. I'm guessing you won't see that look consistently.

    • ChiTownTwinsFan, Parker Hageman, Hosken Bombo Disco and 1 other like this
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Parker Hageman
Aug 09 2014 03:24 PM

Nick,

 

What was the count on the shortened leg kick swing? He tends to do that with 2 strikes or sometimes makes the adjustment mid game. I'm guessing you won't see that look consistently.

 

Why does everyone think Nick wrote this?

 

Obviously, AJ, you have seen more of Vargas than anyone besides...well...Vargas, probably. That home run came on a 1-1 count but he was also displaying this stride/swing every count in the last two games in the Padres series, making it seem less of an in-game/in-plate appearance adjustment. I tried finding any examples of that in the MiLB.com highlights from the left side but there were not any (not to say he didn't do this, it just has more limited database). 

 

I am hoping that one of the beat writers with #access will ask Brunansky or someone about this to see if it is something that he decided to do or if the coaching staff encouraged it. 

Why does everyone think Nick wrote this?

 

Obviously, AJ, you have seen more of Vargas than anyone besides...well...Vargas, probably. That home run came on a 1-1 count but he was also displaying this stride/swing every count in the last two games in the Padres series, making it seem less of an in-game/in-plate appearance adjustment. I tried finding any examples of that in the MiLB.com highlights from the left side but there were not any (not to say he didn't do this, it just has more limited database). 

 

I am hoping that one of the beat writers with #access will ask Brunansky or someone about this to see if it is something that he decided to do or if the coaching staff encouraged it. 

 

 

Thanks for clarifying Nick  :roll:

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AJPettersen
Aug 09 2014 07:16 PM

Bahaha. Sorry Parker, I didn't look at the author, just saw someone else refer to Nick in the comments. It is a great article. I hope Vargas doesn't ditch the leg kick, it is part of what makes him great, he has great rhythm and a natural ability to time a big kick, which makes him hit the ball exceptionally hard. Interesting to see though.

    • kab21 likes this

Bahaha. Sorry Parker, I didn't look at the author, just saw someone else refer to Nick in the comments. It is a great article. I hope Vargas doesn't ditch the leg kick, it is part of what makes him great, he has great rhythm and a natural ability to time a big kick, which makes him hit the ball exceptionally hard. Interesting to see though.

 

So glad to see you posting here and looking forward to some more of your insights.  Hope all is well.

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ashburyjohn
Aug 09 2014 11:39 PM

Thanks for clarifying Nick  :roll:

I'm hoping to get Parker's take on this, too.

    • WLFINN likes this

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