News Column

Twins: Kennys Vargas next in line for Futures Game invitation

June 23, 2014

By Mike Berardino, Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.



June 23--If not for season-wrecking injuries, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano would almost certainly be headed to Target Field next month for their second straight All-Star Futures Game.

Instead, when rosters are announced Tuesday, the biggest beneficiary of those high-profile absences figures to be Double-A New Britain slugger Kennys Vargas.

Entering Monday's play, the switch-hitting first baseman ranked among Eastern League leaders in home runs (fifth), runs batted in (second), slugging percentage (eighth) and combined on-base/slugging percentage (seventh).

The 6-foot-5, 275-pound first baseman also has drawn praise within the organization for his progress in field, where he had made 58 starts through Sunday.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire recently got a chance to visit with Vargas, when the prospect and several teammates made the short trip to Fenway Park while the Twins were in Boston.

"Really big boy, and he's doing very well," Gardenhire said. "Playing a good first and swinging very well."

While it might be a stretch to say Vargas' defense is now a strength, his improvement arc is impressive nonetheless.

"He's actually had to really work hard on that," Gardenhire said. "That's a part of his game that needed a lot of improvement. We saw that in spring, but he worked really hard. He's doing better."

After hitting just three homers during a frigid April in the Northeast, Vargas has heated up considerably. He was batting .322 with 14 homers and 57 RBIs through the weekend, and those numbers would be even better if his home park were more hitter-friendly.

At New Britain Stadium, Vargas was batting just .266/.371/.422 this year. On the road, he was destroying the opposition to the tune of .378/.421/.654.

Vargas, who turns 24 on Aug. 1, remains a bigger threat from the right side (.369/.449/.595) than the left (.305/.370/.524), but the gentle giant tops the list of Twins position candidates for the high-profile showcase on July 13.

Class A Fort Myers right fielder Adam Brett Walker II recently was named MVP of the Florida State League All-Star Game. His 14 homers lead the league, and his 53 RBIs rank second. But his on-base percentage was just .288, and his 80 strikeouts ranked fourth in the FSL.

Vargas, meanwhile, has struck out just 45 times in 255 at-bats while drawing 32 walks. He has six homers in June, including four in five games, after going 14 games without leaving the yard.

If Vargas doesn't get the expected call for the World Team, the Twins figure to send two of three top pitching prospects.

Triple-A Rochester right-handers Trevor May (8-4, 2.94 earned-run average) and Alex Meyer (4-3, 3.46) are distinguishing themselves in the International League, although May has been more consistent overall with better peripherals. Both were ranked among the Twins' top eight overall prospects by Baseball America over the winter.

May and/or Meyer would pitch for Team USA.

If the Twins opt to reach down to Fort Myers, as they did last July with Buxton, right-hander J.O. Berrios is a strong contender. The 32nd overall pick in 2012, Berrios took a 7-2 record and 2.09 ERA into Monday's start for the Miracle.

The hard-throwing Puerto Rican ranked seventh in the league in ERA, second in strikeouts (90) and was third in strikeout rate per nine innings (10.51).

Berrios, who would play for the World team, had yet to allow more than three earned runs in any of his 13 starts. Over his past five outings he had posted a 45/5 strikeout/walk ratio. He turned 20 on May 27.

Follow Mike Berardino at twitter.com/MikeBerardino.

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(c)2014 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)

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Source: Saint Paul Pioneer Press (MN)


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