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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 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Twins Twerp View Post
      Since he is on the forty...we will see him in September, but might we see him earlier?
      Since he's on the 40, he can be called up anytime somone is sent down or put on the DL. He's also automatically eligible for a September callup, which I'd imagine he's going to get. I'd hazard a guess that if Mauer had gone on the DL that he would have been on the short list of names to call for a cup of coffee.
    1. Brandon's Avatar
      Brandon -
      Good hitting is like good pitching. You can never have enough. With that said, We have the following depth coming up over the next 12months.

      DH: Pinto, Vargas Colabello
      3B: Sano, Plouffe
      LF/RF: Kubel, Willingham, Arcia, Parmelee, Rosario,
      CF: Hicks, Buxton

      Looks like Willingham and Kubel leave as FA. Colabello to the bench with maybe Parmelee or he is gone too and Hicks may need to go down and become a pitcher. Sano may not stick at 3b. so hopefully these newer prospects fare better.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      Quote Originally Posted by THE DFC View Post
      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.
      The worst case scenario is that they all work out with the bat and we have a surplus of guys who can OPS greater than .800 with ease, but are not good defenders. At that point, these guys can be traded for something of value.

      If that doesn't happen, the situation will work itself out on its own whether it be for a developing glove or a prospect failing to make it in the majors. Honestly, I'm not terribly concerned about Parmelee, Pinto, or Arcia finding a spot for their gloves and I'm only mildly concerned about Sano, whom I suspect will be an issue more as he ages than when he first makes it. Parmelee is already an average defender in the corner, and Pinto's offense is good enough to offset the defensive liabilities that he has... but even with them, he doesn't seem clueless behind the plate.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      It seems clear that a 2015-at-some-point player roster could be:

      1B Mauer
      2B Polanco/Dozier
      3B Sano
      SS Dozier/Polanco
      C Pinto
      DH Vargas
      LF Rosario
      CF Buxton
      RF Hicks

      Let's say Santana, Plouffe, Ortiz/maybe JD Williams, X catcher on the bench

      Vargas fits in nicely as a switch-hitter in this scenario. He can get in minimal time at 1st base for spelling Mauer and DHing Pinto as well.

      Imagine those positions working and a lineup of:

      Buxton
      Mauer
      Sano
      Vargas
      Pinto
      Rosario
      Dozier
      Polanco
      Hicks


      Note: this is leaving Arcia out at the moment for no good reason.
    1. drivlikejehu's Avatar
      drivlikejehu -
      I have a feeling Hicks is not going to be the Twins starting RF in 2015.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      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.
      I don't disagree but got to realize that Colabello is just a year younger than Kubel, has been stinking up the place recently and is as much part of the future as Kubel and Willingham. I would not mind seeing Vargas replacing him at this point.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      It seems clear that a 2015-at-some-point player roster could be:

      1B Mauer
      2B Polanco/Dozier
      3B Sano
      SS Dozier/Polanco
      C Pinto
      DH Vargas
      LF Rosario
      CF Buxton
      RF Hicks

      Let's say Santana, Plouffe, Ortiz/maybe JD Williams, X catcher on the bench

      Vargas fits in nicely as a switch-hitter in this scenario. He can get in minimal time at 1st base for spelling Mauer and DHing Pinto as well.

      Imagine those positions working and a lineup of:

      Buxton
      Mauer
      Sano
      Vargas
      Pinto
      Rosario
      Dozier
      Polanco
      Hicks


      Note: this is leaving Arcia out at the moment for no good reason.
      Sub Arcia for Hicks and Plouffe for Rosario and leave away Williams and especially Danny Ortiz (who I doubt will be with the organization in 2015) And this is pretty close. Polanco might be another season away and Escobar/Santana should be the SS till then.
    1. Madre Dos's Avatar
      Madre Dos -
      Kennys Vargas is a WONDERFUL young man! He has a contagious laugh and is a fan favorite. The kids love him (he's just a large kid at heart)! Well mannered and he was very helpful to me when he stayed with me in Elizabethton. That was the season that Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario, Jhonatan Arias, Jairo Rodriguez and Tyler Jones stayed here. I wish the best for him...he deserves it.
    1. Madre Dos's Avatar
      Madre Dos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      It seems clear that a 2015-at-some-point player roster could be:

      1B Mauer
      2B Polanco/Dozier
      3B Sano
      SS Dozier/Polanco
      C Pinto
      DH Vargas
      LF Rosario
      CF Buxton
      RF Hicks

      Let's say Santana, Plouffe, Ortiz/maybe JD Williams, X catcher on the bench

      Vargas fits in nicely as a switch-hitter in this scenario. He can get in minimal time at 1st base for spelling Mauer and DHing Pinto as well.

      Imagine those positions working and a lineup of:

      Buxton
      Mauer
      Sano
      Vargas
      Pinto
      Rosario
      Dozier
      Polanco
      Hicks


      Note: this is leaving Arcia out at the moment for no good reason.
      5 of mine in the starting line up - that would make for a GREAT trip to Minnesota!
    1. Larsbars08's Avatar
      Larsbars08 -
      A 20% k rate from a power hitter is pretty damn good to begin with. Even if he starts regressing towards that, anything below 20% from a hitter with his power is icing on the cake.

      Count me in on the Vargas bandwagon. He's a guy I've been interested in but he's been around for a while. I was surprised to see he's only 23. Is he a top 10 prospect by the end of the season?
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by Larsbars08 View Post
      Count me in on the Vargas bandwagon. He's a guy I've been interested in but he's been around for a while. I was surprised to see he's only 23. Is he a top 10 prospect by the end of the season?
      For some of us, he already is a top 10 prospect...
    1. Twins Fan From Afar's Avatar
      Twins Fan From Afar -
      Quote Originally Posted by Larsbars08 View Post
      A 20% k rate from a power hitter is pretty damn good to begin with. Even if he starts regressing towards that, anything below 20% from a hitter with his power is icing on the cake.

      Count me in on the Vargas bandwagon. He's a guy I've been interested in but he's been around for a while. I was surprised to see he's only 23. Is he a top 10 prospect by the end of the season?
      On the subject of his K %, take a look at what he's done since 2009: http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx...1B/DH#advanced

      I'll save you the click if you don't want to check fangraphs: 26.2; 25; 26.2; 22; 20.2; 16.2 (going into tonight's game).

      So Vargas is definitely trending in the right direction.
    1. kab21's Avatar
      kab21 -
      I will worry about the Twins having too many good DH's when the Twins actually have too many good HITTERS. Not everyone of those hitters will work out and I'm not convinced that most of them can't play somewhere in the field.
    1. DocBauer's Avatar
      DocBauer -
      This guy.

      Vargas really intrigues me as a future block for the new Twins foundation. And his play thus far at AA has me very encouraged.

      Simply can't discount Arcia as a full time OF with his youth and relatively decent athleticism. He just needs time, experience and more coaching. And right now, full health. To me, right now, so far this season, his injury is right up there with Sano and Buxton being hurt. There are different reasons to like him in both corners. RF with his arm, LF if his potential never quite reaches reality defensively. And yet, more room to cover in LF for someone else.

      Pinto at C, no problem. He's not bad there, just learning and growing and Suzuki doing a great job. Even better than expected. No good reason why a healthy, and steadily improving Sano can't stay at 3B.

      My "dream" for this season, besides every Twins top prospect improving and growing overall, and Buxton just having a healthy and kick-butt season that would show he might be ready for 2015 (UGH!), was in 5 parts. #1 was a SS to emerge from somewhere. I believe the move to Escobar is long over due as well as encouraging. Santana's early promotion has been a huge surprise, even if it proves temporary. This one might actually be coming true. #2 was an OF, other than Arcia, to take a big step forward toward next season. (Again, other than Buxton) I had a hunch it could be Walker, but perhaps Parmelee could FINALLY be getting it. #3 was for Meyer, May or Darnell to be ready by the ASB. This might still happen.

      #4 was for a "someone" to emerge. Regardless of position. Regardless of full time or just good all around productive player. Vargas just might be that guy.
    1. Hawkeye12's Avatar
      Hawkeye12 -
      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.
      I wonder how many people remember that David Ortiz was named Baseball America's best defensive first baseman in 1997 when he was at New Britain.
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