As he struggled to find consistent playing time during his first stint in the Majors last season, Vargas picked up an outfielder’s glove and tried to learn a new position just so he could get into the lineup. He had little to no experience in the outfield.
Vargas’ willingness to learn something new, however, caught Betts’ attention. He remembered making the transition from infielder to outfielder. Betts could see glimpses of himself in Vargas, so he decided to help, giving him advice every step of the way.
“He just seemed like a good kid,” Betts said. “He wants to be good. I can relate to that. He’s just a good kid. It wasn't on purpose or anything. I was just trying to make him feel comfortable.”
Since last season, Betts and Vargas have grown closer. The two were among the group that traveled to data-driven player development facility Driveline Baseball in Seattle this offseason. Vargas and Betts worked out in Los Angeles a few times during the winter. The Cuban infielder also changed his representation this offseason and is now part of the same agency that handles Betts.
This spring, at least until Betts left for the World Baseball Classic, the two were once again together out on the field -- this time, at second base. It’s no secret Betts prefers second base over the outfield. But given his contract, he’ll continue to be the Dodgers’ right fielder for the foreseeable future, though he’ll get more opportunities in the infield following Gavin Lux’s injury.
Vargas, however, will start at second base, another position where he has limited experience. Again, Betts has taken the time to teach the Cuban infielder, often spending 30 minutes after batting practice fielding grounders and giving Vargas tips at the position.
“It’s been incredible for me to have him,” Vargas told MLB.com in Spanish. “Since the first day I got here, he just kind of took me under his wing. Not only that he’s helped me, but just the way he’s gone out of his way to do that for me, I’m just honored and proud to be able to call him a teammate and friend.”
Earlier this spring, there were a lot of conversations and questions about who would be the Dodgers’ new leader. It’s a void the clubhouse will have to fill now that Justin Turner signed with the Red Sox. Whether he wants it or not, a lot of that responsibility will fall on Betts, the team’s highest-paid player and the new face of the franchise.
Betts has said he won’t be a loud leader, instead leading by example. He remembers how David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia took him under their wing and made him feel comfortable as a young player. Betts understands how crucial that is for up-and-coming prospects, especially a player like Vargas who is always seeking help.
“There are so many intricacies of the game that you may not know when you’re young, and just having someone to kind of make you feel comfortable, it’s huge,” Betts said. “He’s here to help us win, so there’s no sense of making him uncomfortable.”
Vargas is with the Dodgers to help them win, and his success will directly impact how many wins the club racks up this season. The Cuban infielder also sought advice from J.D. Martinez and Miguel Rojas this offseason. Having veteran players on his side, especially Betts, has made Vargas feel like he belongs.
“It makes me hungrier,” Vargas said. “Just knowing a guy of [Betts'] stature wants to help me, it’s an unbelievable experience for me that I just can’t waste.”