Ildemaro Vargas is known for his defensive prowess, but his recent power display could lead to an increased role with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The switch-hitting infielder has shown glimpses of raw power during the Dbacks’ Summer Camp scrimmages. As the starting designated hitter in Monday’s 12-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers, he homered off pitcher Julio Urias to deep left field that nearly left Dodger Stadium in the second inning.
Vargas’ deep blast has been a culmination of offensive improvements at the plate. He’s added muscle to his 6-foot, 180-pound frame this offseason, and it has translated to some untapped power to all fields. If his hot streak carries over into the regular season, it could bode well to his major league future.
“I think I have to look at somebody that is having that type of success,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo told Nick Piecoro of The Arizona Republic. “And it’s not just the base hits – it’s the way he’s impacting the baseball. There’s damage and bad intentions with every swing. With the results he’s getting, it’s definitely opening my eyes.”
Since he signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2008, Vargas, 29, has spent the majority of his career in the minor leagues. The Caprioto, Venezuela native has totaled 931 games with a career .293 batting average in the minors.
Nicknamed “El Tigre” for his quickness, Vargas signed with Arizona in 2015 and quickly became a fan favorite with Triple-A Reno. He ranks first all-time in Aces history with 439 hits and 88 doubles over 314 games. He is second all-time with 220 runs and 624 total bases.
Vargas made his Dbacks debut in 2017 and has totaled 118 games in the big leagues, including a career-high 92 last season. He hasn’t displayed much power at the plate with just seven homers in Arizona and 38 over 12 professional seasons in the minors.
With new rules put into MLB’s shortened 60-game season, Vargas’ increased pop may have arrived at the opportune moment. The National League will institute the designated hitter position for 2020, and Vargas took advantage of it against Los Angeles.
If Vargas doesn’t make it into the lineup via the designated hitter, he can make an impact defensively with his quick glove and versatility. Vargas made 28 starts at second base, six at third base and one start at shortstop with the Dbacks last season. He’s made highlight-reel plays over the years in part to his cat-like reflexes and smooth glove-to-hand transfers.
The Diamondbacks are primarily set with Eduardo Escobar, Nick Ahmed, Ketel Marte and 2017 Pacific Coast League MVP Christian Walker manning the infield. But Vargas has showcased his offensive potential in the scrimmages, and it may force their hand to give him more opportunities at the next level.
Arizona opens against the San Diego Padres on Friday, July 24 and its roster will shrink from a 60-player pool to a 30-man roster. Reno’s all-time hit king can help the Diamondbacks reach the postseason for the first time since 2017.