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2016 Stock Market Report: Kennys Vargas

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Does Minnesota have a role for their slugging young switch hitter?

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Kennys Vargas was a revelation in 2014. The Twins were dealing with all kinds of injuries and were in general just a bad team anyway, so they called up Danny Santana from Triple-A and Vargas from Double-A. They had nothing to lose.

All Vargas did was .274/.316/.465 with nine home runs in 234 plate appearances. I don't need to extrapolate those numbers for you - it's enough to know it'd be a bunch of home runs over a full season. While he did spend most of his time in the designated hitter spot he also spelled Joe Mauer at first base. Considering his minor league track record (Vargas has a .287/.375/.488 career triple slash on the farm) it was thought, perhaps somewhat optimistically but not entirely without reason, that he could step into a full-time role in 2015.


It didn't go well out of the gate. Vargas hit .172/.232/.234 in April with just a single home run. He was certainly pressing but his struggles appeared to not be the sole issue, as just when he started to heat up - Vargas posted a .956 OPS in May - the Twins optioned him back to Triple-A. You can go through our editorials on the switch-hitting masher and the writing on the wall was apparent.

Stage 1: Optimism

Will Kennys Vargas emerge as the Twins' next power threat? (April 6)

Stage 2: Something is amiss

Paul Molitor managing struggles of Vargas and Santana (April 28)

Pitchers have found Kennys Vargas' weakness (April 29)

Stage 3: It all comes undone

Kennys Vargas optioned to Triple-A (May 17)

Vargas would spend two and a half weeks in Triple-A before being recalled. The Twins had finally seen enough of Santana and returned him to the minor leagues, giving Vargas another crack. But he still looked lost, far more aggressive than he would normally be. This stint lasted just 18 games. He didn't take a walk and struck out 18 times. This time Minnesota wasn't messing around: they optioned him to Double-A.

The message was clear: whatever is going on, you need to get your act together. Aaron Hicks had the same action imposed on him in 2014 and he responded with an .871 OPS in 41 games. Could Vargas respond in kind?

He did...and then some. Vargas lit up Double-A pitchers to the tune of a .287/.417/.516 triple slash, cutting down the strikeout rates and demonstrating his ability to control the strike zone and accrue handfulls of walks. Minnesota let him sit there long enough to see him prove what he was doing was repeatable and then moved him back up to Rochester, and he didn't slow down. Vargas played like a man inspired, continuing to show patience for free passes and a very fair strikeout rate for a player that can generate some serious power. After 20 impressive games, the Twins rewarded him with a September callup.

Molitor didn't give Vargas many opportunities with the Twins in September. He made just three starts, appeared twice as a late-game defensive replacement, and had six pinch-hitting opportunities.

On the season, Vargas' Major League line isn't very impressive. He hit just five home runs in 184 plate appearances, hitting a paltry .240/.277/.349.


First Base: Joe Mauer, (Byung-Ho Park)

Designated Hitter: (Byung-Ho Park), Miguel Sano, Oswaldo Arcia, Joe Mauer

The Twins are spoiled when it comes to young, somewhat unproven players who have at least 70-level power on the 20 to 80 scouting scale. Vargas finds himself in the thick of some serious competition for any kind of playing time. Particularly if the Twins can complete a deal with Korean slugger Park, the challenge would be finding Major League opportunities.

Contract Status

Vargas will be under team control through 2021. His first season of arbitration eligibility will be 2018. All of which means he's going to be controllable through his age-30 season.

What's his role on the 2016 team?

This was a fascinating journey of a year for Kennys, from the early belief to the struggle to the literal bottoming out in Double-A, before he found some serious fortitude and earned his way back up to Minnesota. A down year it may have been, but his long-term prospects don't seem significantly dimmer as a result. The power is real, as is the patience, and as a switch hitter with his size he has all the makings of an intimidating presence in the batter's box.

Unfortunately for the Twins it's going to be difficult to find Vargas regular plate appearances for the Major League club. In the worst-case scenario (in terms of his potential playing time) the Twins both sign Byung-Ho Park and retain Trevor Plouffe, thereby removing options that may have opened up more designated hitter opportunities. The best-case scenario for serious playing time is the highly unlikely scenario where neither Park nor Plouffe are on the roster, because then Vargas' biggest competition would be Oswaldo Arcia. Not easy by any means, but at least it's a shot.

The Twins have options remaining on Vargas, so if it comes to it they have the choice of just shunting him back to Triple-A. That would be a tough pill to swallow for someone like Vargas, who will be 25 and who has more or less proven everything there is to prove in the minor leagues, but the option is there.

But for a player with his offensive potential, considering his remaining five years of team control and league-minimum salary over the next two years, could the Twins entertain trade offers? There's never a shortage of clubs in baseball with the desire for a young player who can hit home runs. Given 500 plate appearances, there's no doubt in my mind that - even considering possible struggles - he could go off for 25+.

It's early, but with their first off-season move the Twins have provided more questions than answers in regards to how they'll be dealing with a glut of Major League-ready talent. Unfortunately for Vargas, that has put a great deal of pressure on his potential for playing time and it could very well mean that he'll be on the trade block. Whatever happens, he's a big, powerful hitter with a brilliant personality. Whatever happens he'll make a great teammaste somewhere, even if that's not in Minnesota.