Major League prospect Ildemaro “El Tigré” Vargas earned his nickname for quick-handed defensive play, but can he hit? Does a tiger have stripes?
The 27-year-old shortstop has more hits than any other player in Reno Aces history.
Reunited on May 11 with familiar faces on the field and in the stands, Vargas has played like he never left the Biggest Little City, whether it’s driving pitches to the gaps, or signing autographs for his countless fans before and after the game.
He was optioned from the Arizona Diamondbacks back to Triple-A Reno, where he can play every day and get into a hitting groove. He batted .200 in 26 games with the Dbacks in his second big-league stint since signing a minor league contract in 2013
[pullquote]It all starts with the fans who come see us play and I try to put on a show for them. I always smile because they give me that energy on the field. I try to bring that same positive vibe for my teammates and opposing players because it means so much to me.”[/pullquote]Vargas became a fan-favorite following a breakout 2018. He had a franchise-record 35-game hit streak and earned his first Pacific Coast League All-Star appearance.
“I’m really blessed and grateful with how everything is coming together,” Vargas said through Aces teammate and interpreter Juniel Querecuto. “I’m feel like I’m back with the family and I am happy to be back here.”
On Thursday night, Vargas went 0-for-5 for the first time in an Aces uniform in a 14-5 loss to the Tacoma Rainiers, bringing his batting average with the Aces to .550 on the year. He surpassed the 400-hit milestone with Reno on Tuesday.
“Those 400 hits mean a lot,” he said. “To do it with a team that embraces me is something special. It was years of work that has put me to where I am now. It teaches me that everything happens for a reason.”
Over 291 career games, Vargas ranks first in franchise history with 83 doubles, second with 1,242 at-bats and 202 runs, tied for fifth with 15 triples and eighth with 143 RBIs.
Although his quick hands at the plate and in the field terrorizes opposing teams, it’s Vargas’ love for the game that captures the attention from spectators at Greater Nevada Field.
He was seen wrestling with Aces mascot Archie before getting in a couple warmup throws with a young fan located in the upper deck of the stadium. Those same pregame antics translate to the field, where he chats with opposing players or dancing to walk-up music in the dugout.
“You can see it in the way he plays he’s just having fun out there,” Reno native Craig Herschmann told Tahoe Onstage. “You don’t see that from many other guys, it’s one of the reasons why he’s our favorite player.”
Vargas’ optimism translates to the clubhouse, as well.
“He’s just a great guy to be around,” Querecuto said. “He has the personality everyone that everyone wants to be around. It’s very uplifting.”
A native of Caripito, Venezuela, Vargas has grown to savor every game where his name is slotted into the lineup.
“They’re all like family,” he said. “It all starts with the fans who come see us play and I try to put on a show for them. I always smile because they give me that energy on the field. I try to bring that same positive vibe for my teammates and opposing players because it means so much to me.”
Vargas has stood out among his Triple-A competition, and he’s eyeing a permanent return to the Arizona desert.
“I’m just doing what I can control, which is playing my brand of (baseball),” he said. “It was great getting that experience up there, but now I need to work on my timing and try to be back there soon and see what’s next.”
Primarily a shortstop, Vargas was used in other spots of the infield during his time with the Dbacks. The rangy infielder started nine games apiece at third base and second base. Nick Ahmed is the everyday shortstop. Vargas didn’t miss a beat at either position, sporting an .857 fielding percentage at the hot corner and a .966 percentage at second.
Aces all-time saves leader Jimmie Sherfy has watched Vargas’ defensive prowess in Arizona and Reno.
“He’s just a great player in general,” Sherfy said. “The transfers he makes from glove to hand are the best I’ve ever seen. It’s unreal.”
Vargas’ quick glove has made the trip from Arizona. He’s started at least one game at shortstop, second base and third base with the Aces. In typical Vargas fashion, the versatile infielder ranged to his left to barehand a ground ball for the 4-3 putout in the eighth inning.
“I just focus on making the routine play,” he said. “I try to make it easy on myself and not try not to do too much. Wherever I am playing, I will do my job the best I can.”
While Vargas savors every inning he plays, Aces fans relish every game he is back in the Biggest Little City.
“I’m in a groove right now, I’ll make sure not to change anything,” he laughed. “It’s all about having fun.”
Eight-run fourth pushes Tacoma past Reno
Tacoma’s eight-run flurry in the fourth inning on Thursday extended the Aces’ season-high losing streak to eight games.
Tacoma laced 23 hits, the most Reno has allowed since May 17, 2012. Former Aces utility player Kristopher Negron went 2-for-6 with a double two RBIs in a return to Greater Nevada Field as a member of the Rainiers. Negron, 33, appeared in 238 games with Reno. His 16 triples rank fourth in team history.
Negron, who signed a minor league contract with the Seattle Mariners, hit .283 with five home runs and 15 RBIs with the Aces last season.
Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager went 2-for-4 in a rehabilitation start. He underwent surgery to repair a tendon in his left hand that has kept him out through the regular season. Seager, 31, has 175 homers, 603 RBIs and a career .441 slugging percentage over eight seasons with the Mariners.
Tacoma southpaw Tommy Milone picked up his fourth win of the season, giving up four earned runs and three walks with five strikeouts in five innings pitched. Milone, 32, has a 46-37 record over his eight-year MLB career with the Washington Nationals, Oakland A’s, Minnesota Twins, Milwaukee Brewers and New York Mets.
The Aces had eight hits. Kevin Cron went 2-for-3 with two home runs and three RBIs. He’s up to 17 home runs on the year to lead the PCL. Cron launched a pair of waist-high fastballs over the scoreboard in left field and to the party zone in right field.
Third baseman Wyatt Mathisen finished 1-for-4 with a solo shot to right field, his second homer of the home stand.
Center fielder Tim Locastro was hit by a pitch three times.
Taylor Widener’s struggles continued on the mound. The right-hander surrendered seven earned runs on seven hits and two walks over 3.1 innings. Widener couldn’t get ahead in the count, and Tacoma pounced on his low-90s fastball early and often.
The Aces led 3-1 at the end of the first inning. Tacoma took a commanding lead after its eight-run fourth. Reno plated another run in the bottom of the fourth. The Rainiers answered with one in the fifth and three more in the sixth. Tacoma poured it on with one run in the eighth.
Notes: Former Reno Aces outfielder Andrew Aplin was released. Aplin, 28, hit .205 with two homers and 12 RBIs this season. His walk-off grand slam against the Fresno Grizzlies on April 27 capped-off the largest comeback in franchise history. … The Aces are 1-9 in games following an off day. … Reno has hit back-to-back home runs three times this season. … Matt Szczur made his Aces debut since being activated from extended spring training. Szczur, 29, signed a minor league free agent deal with the Dbacks this offseason. He went 0-for-5 in the loss.
On Deck: Reno, 14-26, face Tacoma for the second game of the five-game series at 6:35 p.m. Justus Sheffield, MLB Pipeline’s No. 39 prospect, is expected to take the hill for the Rainiers. University of Nevada, Reno alum Braden Shipley is expected to make his third start for the Aces this season.