When the American League Rookie of the Month for August in unveiled, the Twins have a good chance of seeing one of their two players nab the award.
Center fielder Danny Santana is batting .327 this month with four triples, six stolen bases and 12 RBI. But as it turns out, Santana might not have had the best month for a rookie in the AL, let alone on Minnesota’s roster. That award could very well go to Kennys Vargas, who has one-upped Santana in several offensive categories. The 24-year-old Puerto Rico native is hitting .330 in August with four home runs and 23 RBI — third-most in all of baseball during that span.
Making Vargas’ month of August even more impressive is the fact that it’s his first month in the major leagues. He made the jump from Double-A New Britain and debuted on Aug. 1, his 24th birthday. He’s since been a regular in the Twins’ lineup and has batted in the cleanup spot nearly all of August.
It’s hard to imagine a more impressive first month in the majors for Vargas, but the big, affable first baseman isn’t shocked at his own success. When asked if he was surprised to be playing this well this soon, Vargas let out a big laugh that has quickly become one of his trademarks.
"I don’t be surprised. I work for that. I work so hard," said Vargas, who has mostly been a designated hitter but has occasionally spelled Joe Mauer at first base. "I think the key is trusting in my staff, the people (that) want to help me, take everything they tell me. I try to take all the information and put in work."
Vargas tallied hits in his first five games in the majors, including a two-run double for his first big-league hit against the White Sox. There wasn’t much of a scouting report on Vargas early on as opposing pitchers gave him a steady diet of fastballs.
But even now that other teams know what Vargas can do and know the type of power he has from both sides of the plate, he’s been able to react to the pitchers’ adjustments to him. Though Vargas still has a tendency to strike out frequently — 29 whiffs in 103 at-bats — he continues to not only hit for a high average but also has come up numerous times with big hits in clutch situations.
Among his top performances so far was a five RBI game in a 12-4 Twins victory over Detroit. Earlier this month, Vargas drove in all three of Minnesota’s runs in a 3-1 win — and they all came on a three-run home run, the first of his career.
"He’s done a pretty good job making some adjustments," said Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony. "They’re not going to throw him fastballs unless they have to. He’s hit some balls a long way on offspeed pitches and breaking balls. He’s chased some, which every young player does. He’s also done a pretty good job laying off some and getting himself into decent counts. I think he’s handled himself very well."
In the 25 games Vargas has played since his call-up, he’s only failed to reach base once. He drew walks in two of his four hitless games and reached on an error in another. And his 17 runs scored — including scoring from first base in Wednesday’s loss to Kansas City — are second-most on the Twins behind Brian Dozier’s 20.
Defensively, Vargas continues to work on his footwork and his arm angle at first base. At 6-foot-5, 275 pounds, Vargas isn’t the fleetest of foot in the field, but he’s held his own at the position in the handful of times he’s played there. He’s soaked up information given to him by Paul Molitor and former Twins manager Tom Kelly, both of whom have worked with Vargas on his defense.
Vargas takes his defense so seriously that he’s even told his personal trainer in Puerto Rico that he wants to work on playing first base this offseason, which will include a stint in winter ball in his home country.
"I know the big leagues right now and I want to say," Vargas said. "For that, I need to work hard, try to lose some pounds, then work on my defense a lot. I don’t know if I’m going to be DH or something, but work on my defense and play winter ball. . . . I’m here for whatever the team needs me or the manager wants to play me."
It remains to be seen what the future holds for Vargas, but he’s making a strong case to stick around next year and beyond. And he’s also proving that even undrafted free agents can eventually find a home in the majors; Minnesota signed him in 2009 after none of the 30 MLB teams took a chance on him in the draft.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is glad Vargas wound up in Minnesota. The skipper has taken a liking to one of his newest players — and it’s hard not to when Vargas is constantly laughing and smiling and enjoying the game while putting in the early work to get better at all aspects.
"You don’t really know how it’s going to turn out. There’s still a long ways to go in this season," Gardenhire said. "The scouts in the stands are going to start really paying attention to what he’s doing and they’re going to start making adjustments to him. Let’s see how he adjusts. That’s the normal process. He’s doing fine. He’s such a strong kid that he can probably get away with a few things that other people can’t."