Fans dazzled by his bat, but Vargas focused on improving defense
JUL 13, 2014 6:00p ET
MINNEAPOLIS -- One ball sailed well over the center field fence, nearly clearing the batters eye. Another almost dented a promotional pickup truck parked in right field. Both shots drew some oohs and aahs from nearby spectators.
Kennys Vargas showed during batting practice before Sunday's Futures Game that he can hit the ball a long, long way. But Minnesota already has seen what the 23-year-old prospect can do with the bat. Vargas knows that if he wants to return to Target Field someday, his glove will need to improve.
"I saw him at the breakfast this morning. You know what he said? The first thing. 'I'm really working on my defense,'" said former Twins manager Tom Kelly, who is managing the U.S. team in the Futures Game. "That's the first thing he said. That was unbelievable."
Vargas is currently playing first base for Double-A New Britain, two levels away from reaching the majors. Since signing with the Twins as an undrafted free agent in 2009, Vargas has been a bit raw defensively. Despite his 19 home runs last season, Vargas committed 11 errors at first base.
This spring, Vargas worked closely with Kelly in spring training on his infield defense. During his time as the Twins' manager, Kelly was a stickler for defense, particularly in the infield. So perhaps it shouldn't have come as a surprise that Vargas greeted Kelly with good news about his glove work.
"TK, he talks to me about defense all the time," Vargas said. "He said, 'You have to play defense if you want to play in the big leagues.' I just enjoy him a lot."
It's Vargas' fielding that needs work, but it's his bat that drew a crowd Sunday before the Futures Game. In his first time ever at Target Field, Vargas put on one of the more impressive batting practice displays, second only to Rangers prospect Joey Gallo. The switch-hitting Vargas even wore a special camera on his head to document his hitting exploits in the batting cage.
After he was done hitting, Vargas drew quite the crowd on the field. Plenty of people wanted to hear from the fun-loving Puerto Rican and David Ortiz clone who hopes to one day call Target Field his home.
"It's a great experience. It means a lot for me to be here tonight," Vargas said. "It's like a dream. Part of my dream is to be at the Futures Game. The most part of my dream is to win a world championship for the Twins, and an All-Star Game for the major leagues, and the home run derby, too."
The home run derby wouldn't seem very far-fetched for anyone who watched Vargas' batting practice session Sunday -- or any fans who have seen him hit for New Britain this year. He currently has 15 home runs in 83 games for the Rock Cats, along with 58 RBI. Last year with High-A Fort Myers, Vargas launched 19 homers and drove in 93 runs.
"He hits the ball like an adult, not a kid," Kelly said. "He hits the ball very hard. It makes a loud sound when he hits the ball, and he's doing well this year in New Britain."
Vargas might not have been the most high-profile prospect in Sunday's Futures Game. He's not even regarded as one of the Twins' top prospects. But his power is certainly intriguing, even if he is blocked at his first base position by six-time All-Star Joe Mauer.
Since 2009, Vargas has continued to rise through the Twins' minor league system. And he's on Minnesota's 40-man roster, meaning the organization thinks highly of him. Now that he's had a taste of what it's like to play in Target Field, Vargas said he wants to work even harder to get back to Minneapolis as soon as he can.
"I don't control that. The team controls that. If they want me to play here, I work for that to play every day for the Twins," Vargas said. "I want to stay here for a lot of years."
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