Saturday, March 14, 2015

Minnesota Has Made Up For A Decade Long Mistake

At the end of the 2002 season, the Minnesota Twins made a difficult decision, one that turned out to be one of the worst the organization had made in years. Following six less than inspiring years in the organization, the team moved on from 26-year-old David Ortiz. Not only did he go on to finish 5th in the MVP voting the following season with the Boston Red Sox, but he became a nine-time All Star, and a six-time Silver Slugger, while also becoming a world champion.

Looking back, it's probably safe to say that the Twins wished they would have gotten that kind of production out of their young slugger. Now, 13 years later, it finally appears that the baseball gods have accepted the Twins atonement for their mistake.

Enter Kennys Vargas.

After another home run yesterday in a Grapefruit League game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, his second of the spring, Vargas has fully exploded onto the scene as a daunting power hitter in the Twins lineup. While his nickname might be "Little Papi," there is nothing small about him. The 6'5" 24-year-old from the Dominican Republic is well on his way to striking fear in the hearts of opposing pitchers.

In his first 53 games at the big league level, Vargas slashed .274/.316/.456. A late September slide caused all of those numbers to regress, but the nine home runs and 38 runs batted in definitely stood out. Ortiz posted 20 home runs just once for the Twins, in 2002, his last season with the club. Across 125 games, he drove in 75 runs, and slashed .272/.339/.500. In leaving for Boston, few could have predicted that he would make the leap he did. At that point however, Ortiz already had six seasons of Major League Baseball under his belt. For Vargas, the future may be even brighter.

Heading into 2015, Vargas will be 24-years-old (turning 25 near the end of the season in August). With his first full spring training as a 25 man roster inclusion, and the extended work with hitting coach Tom Brunansky, the Twins should only expect Vargas to improve. Last season, the Twins surprisingly had one of the best offenses in baseball. The production was bolstered by the addition of Vargas down the stretch, and he has become a mainstay in the middle of the lineup.

Likely flanked this season by names like Joe Mauer, Torii Hunter, and Oswaldo Arcia, the Twins designated hitter will have plenty of opportunities. As Vargas continues to grow in the game of baseball, and further refine his approach at the plate, his level of production should only increase. With the Twins viewing Vargas first as a bat and asset to the lineup, playing first base becomes somewhat of an afterthought, much like Ortiz has approached his career.

It's far to early to suggest that Kennys Vargas is capable of being what David Ortiz has become. The latter has gone on to hit 466 home runs over the course of an 18 year major league career. That being said, for the first time in well over a decade, it appears like the Twins may have their answer in replacing the production they once gave up on.

Like Ortiz, Vargas' smile and charisma for the game of baseball will only continue to elevate his stock in the organization. If he can blast a handful of home runs along the way, so be it.