Minnesota Twins: Kennys Vargas’ case for 2018 designated hitter

ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 25: Kennys Vargas
ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 25: Kennys Vargas /

The Minnesota Twins appear to be on the look for a right-handed DH type, but could that guy already be on their roster in the form of Kennys Vargas?

The Minnesota Twins have been working this offseason to try to improve their roster for 2018. They have already made two significant additions to their bullpen in the way of Fernando Rodney and Zach Duke. While the Twins look pretty good on the offensive side of things, they have still been in talks with the likes of Mike Napoli.

Is it possible that the Twins may already have a player on their roster who can fill out their need for any offensive upgrades? Kennys Vargas has the looks of the Twins ghost of missed opportunities in David Ortiz. Vargas also has the power of Ortiz, but his overall production has not been Oritz-esque. Creating this tension with fans on what level of loyalty Twins fans should have to the home run driving big man.

At Vargas’ best he is a very exciting hitter. Hitting bombs like this 483 foot home run that he hit during the 2017 season in a game against the Chicago White Sox.

When the brightness of those great bright spots fades, Vargas also has moments of being hardly recognizable as the same guy that can make such great contact. That is why there have been rumors on whether or not Vargas would even make spring training with the Twins or end up in another league altogether.

In 2017, Vargas saw 241 major league at-bats and was able to hit .253/.314/.444 and hit 11 home runs for the Twins. Vargas’ 2017 stats are close to his career numbers. What has been an issue for Vargas glancing through his numbers game by game is that in extended stays with the Twins, major league pitchers begin to figure him out. And that has resulted in demotions of different types whether it is to Triple-A Rochester or to the bench.

A positive development regarding that trend is that in the second half of 2017 Vargas was able to fend off that steep regression he has encountered in the past. From July 1st on Vargas hit .278/.381/.474 with a .855 OPS. It is hard to know what exactly helped Vargas to those numbers. He could simply be hitting better or the Twins could have figured out how to bat him in situations that lean on his strengths and lead to success. There is a strong possibility he was helped by an abnormally high BABIP of .397.

If you have been following along at all at Puckett’s Pond you have noticed a theme as we discussed any potential pursuits of free agent position players. The Twins have shown that the presence of a right-handed power bat could certainly shore up some holes in that strong offensive unit. As a switch hitter, Vargas can at least hit from the correct side of the plate and if you are wondering about his power just scroll back up and hit play again on the video that is up there.

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The question lies in Vargas’ ability to be consistent enough to warrant a place on the Twins active roster. Since Vargas is out of minor league options it becomes an important year for both the Twins and Vargas. It could be due to a lack of sample size, but to this point in Vargas’ career, he has performed much better as a right-handed hitter facing left-handed pitching. His splits facing lefties is .272/.341/.432 and a .773 OPS. In comparison, his splits against right-handed pitching are .241/.295/.439 and a .735 OPS.

Looking back to the aforementioned Twins interest in  Napoli, he looks to be a better hitter than Vargas but the gap may not be as big as you would expect. Napoli’s career numbers against left-handed pitchers sit at .270/.379/.513 and a .892 OPS. And against right-handers, Napoli has slashed .236/.333/.460 and a .792 OPS over his career.

What could also work in Vargas’ favor is Rhett Bollinger’s report that the Twins aren’t looking for a full-time designated hitter. Instead preferring to use that spot in a way that they can rotate Joe Mauer and Miguel Sano through there when they are not playing the field. What makes Napoli and Vargas both fit into that scenario is that they can grab the days where Mauer and Sano are in the field and they also have the ability to fill first base while Mauer DH’s.

What ultimately becomes the question is, does Vargas deserve major league at-bats as a DH. This last set of stats may be surprising, I know I found them that way when I first saw them printed in an article written by Tom Froemming. The average numbers for American League designated hitters in 2017 was .243/.317/.418 and .735 OPS. Next, to Vargas’ 2017 of .253/.314/.444 and .758 OPS or even his combined 2016-17 of .244/.322/.466 and .788 OPS, it looks like he should be able to at least challenge for some regular playing time.