By: Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
Kennys Vargas, First base/DH, Minnesota Twins
2014 season (Minors): 97 G, 356 AB, .281 BA, 17 HR, 63 RBI, 0 SB, .832 OPS
2014 season (Majors): 53 G, 215 AB, .274 BA, 9 HR, 38 RBI, 0 SB, .772 OPS
The Twins managed to score their fair share of runs last season, sticking around the middle of the pack in the Majors in most offensive categories despite a lackluster lineup. But the majority of that production came in the second half when a few young stars really got hot, improving on their pre-All-Star slash line of .248/.322/.376 to post a .262/.326/.407 line in the second half. While Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe were the mainstays in the lineup, the call-ups of shortstop Danny Santana and slugger Kennys Vargas infused a much-needed jolt.
Boasting one of the best Minor League systems in the Majors, it’s only going to get better in the coming years with guys like Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano (Ranked as the No. 1 and No. 12 prospects, respectively, by MLB.com) eventually joining the Twins. But until they reach MLB, the club can still be excited by the arrival of Vargas, who right at the start of 2015 should bring a pure power presence the Twins were really lacking for much of last season.
While Vargas has actually never played above Double-A, he proved he could hit big league pitching last season by hitting 10 doubles and nine homers in 53 games in the second half last season. While you’d like to see a decrease in the 63 strikeouts he had during that span, he still managed a .274 average, and with those power numbers you can deal with the whiffs.
Signed as an international free agent at the age of 18, Vargas hit 53 homers and 93 doubles in 381 Minor League games, with 36 of those homers coming in the last two seasons (222 games). Listed at 6-foot-5, 275 pounds, he also provides an imposing presence that could shortly become one of the most physically intimidating duos in the bigs when Sano (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) arrives.
While not strong with the glove, Vargas has worked extensively with former manager Tom Kelly at first base, and the youngster’s work ethic impressed Kelly, as did his improvement with the glove. While he can slot in at DH, having a reserve for the injury prone Joe Mauer is vital, so Vargas will see his fair share of work at first base.
While Spring Training numbers always need to be taken with a grain of salt, you can’t help but be excited by his fast start in the spring. Through 10 games, Vargas had a double, three home runs and seven RBI’s, so it’s clear Vargas is still locked in after a hot second half.
Notable projection system Steamer has Vargas at 21 homers and 61 RBI’s in 124 games for the Twins this year, with a bit of a dip in his slash line to .252/.309/.434. Vargas obviously still has room for improvement, but the free-swinging 24-year-old’s power potential — his .181 ISO (isolated power) ranked near the top of the American League in the second half — is legit and should continue to play nicely in the middle of the Twins’ order for hopefully quite some time.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.