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  • The Emergence of Kennys Vargas

    Without a doubt, the New Britain Rock Cats' most valuable offensive player this season has been Kennys Vargas. Vargas, a 23 year-old switch-hitting first baseman (destined to be a designated hitter), has been on our radar for some time. However, he has always been considered a work-in-progress. Yes, the raw power was always there, but the limited defensive ability, large strikeout totals and inconsistent spells kept Vargas off of some Twins top prospect lists.

    After a brief adjustment period, Vargas seems to have figured out AA hitting. He boasts an impressive .304/.380/.528 line (a .908 OPS), with 7 home runs, 7 doubles and 22 RBIs in 142 plate appearances. More importantly, though, he has 23 strikeouts and 15 walks. Last season, Vargas struck out 105 times in 520 plate appearances (a 20.2 strikeout percentage). This season, the 23 Ks in 142 plate appearances constitute a 16.2 strikeout percentage.

    Yes, we are still in the part of the season where some may attribute this to a small sample size -- and perhaps that's somewhat warranted -- but Vargas' decreasing strikeouts are noteworthy. Over his last 10 games -- to make that sample size even smaller -- I calculate a 13.6 strikeout percentage. Vargas' walk rate -- 10.6% this season -- is up just a tic from last season (9.6%). Long story short, Vargas is putting more balls in play because he's striking out less often, while walking at roughly the same pace. As Brad Steil, Twins' Director of Minor League Operations recently said -- with the requisite Twins modesty -- "Vargas has come on the last couple weeks."

    And those balls in play -- well, let's just say that Vargas' power tool is well defined. One thing that impresses me about Vargas is that he can hold his own from the both sides of the plate. This season, for example, he has four doubles and two homers from the right side of the plate (43 at-bats), coupled with three doubles and five homers from the left side (82 at-bats). So often, switch hitters are much, much better from one side, and merely adequate from their less-dominant side. Can Vargas eventually bring to the Twins a power threat from both sides of the plate? If that's Vargas' ceiling, count me as a fan.


    Kennys Vargas, courtesy of Scott Blanchette

    What impresses me most about Vargas' production this season is that he's doing it in a lineup that's largely barren of threats. Yes, Reynaldo Rodriguez, Danny Ortiz, Nate Hanson and Matt Koch have been dependable, but for other portions of his career, Vargas has batted in the same lineup with the likes of Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton and Eddie Rosario. In other words, he's missing another power threat, and guys with elite on-base and hitting skills. So what Vargas has done thus far in 2014, he's doing without tons of assistance.

    Vargas will likely play all of 2014 in New Britain. I'm excited to see what happens in a few weeks if and when Buxton joins the team, and then a little later, when Rosario is eligible to play. What has been a somewhat drab lineup suddenly will become exciting again. And I believe that there's tremendous value to having those three key players hit in the same lineup together in the minors.

    A few things to keep an eye on this season for Vargas: Can he keep those strikeouts down? A change in the right direction of four to five percent is huge. Can he keep that batting average near .300? 2013 was his first season since 2009 where he batted under .300 -- .267, in fact. Finally, can he demonstrate the ability to hit good pitching from both sides of the plate?

    Time will tell, but 2014 has been encouraging thus far for Vargas.
    Comments 35 Comments
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      The jump from AA to AAA isn't a tough one compared to some of the other jumps. I could see him moving up later this summer.
    1. Sconnie's Avatar
      Sconnie -
      Well said TFFA. I'm excited to see Vargas mature as a hitter and hopefully see him with the big league club.
    1. cmathewson's Avatar
      cmathewson -
      I have a feeling we'll need his bat before the season is out.
    1. Twins Twerp's Avatar
      Twins Twerp -
      Since he is on the forty...we will see him in September, but might we see him earlier?
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Time to bench the vets and the guys who are clearly future non-contributors. With a full-time DH knocking on the door, this team HAS to finally get a definitive answer on Parmelee. No more time-sharing, no more options or DFA. Plug him in and see what happens. It should go without saying that Arcia needs full-time work and Colabello will always be walking a tightrope. If the team wants answers on these guys, Kubel and Willingham have to ride pine.

      There's just not enough room for all these corner/DH types. If a player has even a small chance of being a part of the future they need to be playing now. The Twins need to put themselves in the position where they can make an informed decision before the loss of options, roster-crunches and service time force them to make an un-informed one.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      heck, they need his bat now.....but he won't be promoted to AAA until after the ASB, then he'll be in Rocherster until September. Then maybe, maybe he'll be up.
    1. Twins Fan From Afar's Avatar
      Twins Fan From Afar -
      Thanks for the comments. I agree -- he very well could advance to AAA or MN this season.
      But I think the primary goal is that he plays every day, and the way things might shape up in Rochester, he could have to compete for at-bats with guys like Colabello, Parmelee, even Arcia as a DH. Tough to predict what the AAA roster will look like in July, but that was my initial thought.
    1. ScrapTheNickname's Avatar
      ScrapTheNickname -
      Twins Fan From Afar, you write that Vargas is "destined to be a designated hitter."

      But he has played 1B five years in the Minors ... is there tangible evidence that he is an incapable first-baseman? Anyone?
    1. Twins Fan From Afar's Avatar
      Twins Fan From Afar -
      Quote Originally Posted by ScrapTheNickname View Post
      Twins Fan From Afar, you write that Vargas is "destined to be a designated hitter."

      But he has played 1B five years in the Minors ... is there tangible evidence that he is an incapable first-baseman? Anyone?
      Well, he had to play somewhere, but yes, the defense isn't very good. He's listed at 275 pounds. Also, Joe Mauer will block him. Not to say he couldn't fill in, but yea, I have little doubt Vargas will end up as a professional hitter.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by ScrapTheNickname View Post
      Twins Fan From Afar, you write that Vargas is "destined to be a designated hitter."

      But he has played 1B five years in the Minors ... is there tangible evidence that he is an incapable first-baseman? Anyone?
      Everything I've read about the guy suggests that he's a terrible defender.

      Minor league position just doesn't mean that much. They put players where they can get ABs, not necessarily where they should be playing in a perfect scenario.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      It's been awesome seeing him get hot here the last 3 weeks. I hope that that strikeout pace from this year is maintainable. That's quite encouraging. He definitely needs to keep playing every day (or 12 out of 13).
    1. birddog's Avatar
      birddog -
      Being a switch hitter definitely helps his future with the Twins. I saw him in spring training hit from both sides of the plate and he had good at bats. He is not over-matched and has a good swing from both sides of the plate. Twins already have issues with the 40-man roster and whom to protect, but it will get much tougher as these young guys mature and roster decisions need to be made. This year we have lost many of our CF tweeners like Pressley and Mastro, but what happens in the very near future when we decide to keep our good young hitters or pitchers. TR will have to be very creative, but I hope we get to see some of these young power hitters like Vargas in the majors before dropping them from the 40-man. Twins need some big boppers that you stick around to watch hit a bomb in the 9th inning. We haven't had that threat since Morneau's prime years.
    1. maxisagod's Avatar
      maxisagod -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      Everything I've read about the guy suggests that he's a terrible defender.

      Minor league position just doesn't mean that much. They put players where they can get ABs, not necessarily where they should be playing in a perfect scenario.
      Hmm, Let say Below Average. Below Average glove and range. Meaning If Mauer is hurt, he could player there. But just like people dream of him having David Otriz production with the bat, they have nightmares about him being like Ortiz in the field.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Quote Originally Posted by ScrapTheNickname View Post
      Twins Fan From Afar, you write that Vargas is "destined to be a designated hitter."

      But he has played 1B five years in the Minors ... is there tangible evidence that he is an incapable first-baseman? Anyone?
      He can play the position. I've said many times in the last 3-5 years that his best defensive position was DH. I've also said for 3-4 years that he is very similar in every way to David Ortiz (obviously except for some big league numbers so far) including his ability to play 1B. Ortiz can play 1B. He has. You just kind of take what you get when he does.
    1. birddog's Avatar
      birddog -
      Exactly, Seth! If he puts up David Ortiz type-numbers, we can very easily take limited range at first. Twins have to get some excitement back at Target with this type of player who gets fans' adrenaline flowing each at bat.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by maxisagod View Post
      Hmm, Let say Below Average. Below Average glove and range. Meaning If Mauer is hurt, he could player there. But just like people dream of him having David Otriz production with the bat, they have nightmares about him being like Ortiz in the field.
      Sure. From what I know of Vargas, he can "play" first base the same way Ortiz or Fielder "play" first base on occasion.
    1. Beezer07's Avatar
      Beezer07 -
      Quote Originally Posted by birddog View Post
      Exactly, Seth! If he puts up David Ortiz type-numbers, we can very easily take limited range at first. Twins have to get some excitement back at Target with this type of player who gets fans' adrenaline flowing each at bat.
      Where does Mauer play in this scenario? Or are you talking like 5 years down the road?
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Let's hope that his defense doesn't hold back a MLB bat (once it is a MLB bat).
    1. THE DFC's Avatar
      THE DFC -
      I'm excited about Vargas, but the amount of DH candidates we have coming up is a bit alarming.

      Arcia is questionable in the field. As is Vargas. As is Pinto. As is Parmelee. Plus, there's the very real possibility that Sano won't stick at 3B, which is a problem given that Mauer is planted at 1B.

      5 hitters with major potential right around the corner. This could get tricky. Hopefully, Pinto can stick as a near full-time C, Sano sticks at 3B and at least one of Arcia/Parmelee can hold down a corner OF spot. It would really be a luxury to have all of those guys producing and to be able to fit Vargas in at DH every day.

      Then, we have to figure out where to put with Rosario with 3B/2B/DH/LF/RF potentially all covered...but that's a conversation for another time.

      It's an interesting situation on the horizon. Lots of talented options, of course. Glad to see Vargas throw his hat into the ring.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Pinto can play catcher just fine. Plenty of good hitting catchers field no better than him. Sano could move to RF potentially, but we are years from worrying about that. Parmalee? I don't think we need to worry about him clogging the path to the majors. Arcia? No need to move him off of RF for a few years either. That leaves Rosario.....not worried. They'll either find a spot for him, or move him.
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