Think Mo Vaughn, the big first baseman who got his start with the Boston Red Sox. Or Dave Parker, for baseball fans that remember back to his days in Pittsburgh and several other big league cities. Or, for a more modern comparison, consider current Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz. Minnesota Twins prospect first baseman/designated hitter Kennys Vargas reminds me of each of them. He is compared most often to Big Papi, a former Twins player and slugger he admires greatly.
In a word, Vargas is huge. He could be playing on an offensive or defensive line in the National Football League. At 6-foot-5, 275 pounds, Vargas has battled weight issues since being signed by Minnesota. He came to the Twins as a 215-pound non-drafted free-agent third baseman from Luis Hernalz Verone High School in Canovanas, Puerto Rico. Vargas was signed in 2009, and he hasn't stopped showing tremendous power as a switch-hitter.
Vargas lost development time in 2011, when he was suspended 50 games for violating the Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
I was fortunate to see Vargas play in the recently completed SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game in Minneapolis. He put on quite a show in batting practice. Hitting from both sides of the plate, Vargas hit some mammoth shots that cleared the walls, including a bomb that cleared the wall in dead center field when he was hitting right-handed. It is common knowledge that he once hit the last bulb in the light tower at the Twins' Spring Training site in Fort Myers, Fla.
During the Futures Game, Vargas was the cleanup hitter for the World Team. He got a double off the Orioles' Hunter Harvey in his four trips to the plate.
Vargas is No. 15 on Minnesota's Top 20 Prospects list.
Although power is his best and most advanced tool, for a slugger, Vargas has the ability to make good contact and hit for average. In parts of six seasons, Vargas has compiled a .289 batting average and has smoked 57 home runs. Last year, at Class A Advanced Fort Myers, he hit 19 homers while driving in 93 runs in 520 plate appearances. Vargas is on pace this season at Double-A New Britain to hit 30 homers, with the possibility of driving in 100 runs. That's some serious power.
Vargas is a disciplined hitter with patience at the plate. He has a bit of work to do recognizing breaking balls and picking up the spin on pitches. That said, Vargas will accept a base on balls, and he doesn't go to the plate hacking. He goes to the plate seeking balls he can drive, and he stays focused and dedicated to that objective. Vargas' selectivity and measured swing have led to a career .369 on-base percentage. He has quick hands and very strong forearms that do a great deal of the work generating his power. Vargas will get his share of strikeouts, but I don't expect them to be detrimental to his career.
I think Vargas could enjoy even greater success if he used the trunk of his body more prominently in his swing. He opens his hips a bit late, losing some of the torque and strength his large legs and hips have to offer.
Defensively, Vargas is adequate, but he won't be in the hunt for a Gold Glove. His range and lateral movement are a concern as he tries to get slow feet moving on his jumbo frame. He has very little speed to speak of. For me, Vargas will play best as a designated hitter.
Being a switch-hitter brings a huge bonus and advantage to Vargas' offense. In recent years, he has hit better as a left-handed hitter against right-handed pitching. However, Vargas has always hit well from both sides of the plate. An opposing manager will not gain an advantage changing pitchers to face Vargas hitting one way as opposed to the other. He will keep himself in games longer because of his lethal power from both sides of the plate.
If he keeps his weight in check, Vargas has the potential to be a serious middle-of-the order power hitter.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter.