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:
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:
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:
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:
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:
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 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.”
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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