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Rays newest SS prospect Carlos Vargas has power to spare

Vargas (right) was named co-MVP of the DSL All-Star Game in 2016

It’s often the last name in a trade that turns out to be the best piece of a trade package. It would be a very tall order for newly acquired Rays short-stop Carlos Vargas to exceed the potential of both Mallex Smith and Ryan Yarbrough, so we’re not going to go there. However, despite a long road ahead, there is a case to be made that his ceiling could one day match theirs.

Born the 18th of March, 1999, in the Dominican Republic, this 17-year old prospect is 6’3” and 180 lbs. Vargas was ranked by Baseball America as the 19th best international prospect available in 2015, and just finished his first full season of professional baseball. He has a brother, Emilio Vargas, a 20-year-old RHP who pitches within the Diamondbacks organization.

The Mariners spent $1,625,000 on Vargas, which represented a vast majority of their $2,150,300 international budget. The Rays, meanwhile, were restricted to $300,000 after overspending previously to land Adrian Rondon. In a round about way, they’ve found a way around those restrictions by trading for top international talents instead of paying the initial bonus. Vargas was part of the same class as another recent SS prospect addition the Rays made when they acquired Lucius Fox from the Giants in return for Matt Moore.

If you ask me, both are clever moves that could pay off very well.

Getting to know Carlos Vargas

The first thing I can tell you is that Vargas has trained with Jaime Ramos, the same person who trained Gilbert Lara of the Brewers, who was no slouch on the international market, getting a $3.1M bonus after being ranked 4th best int’l prospect of the 2014 class.

Here’s a compilation of notes about Vargas’s profile and potential:

Here’s a quick view of how he looked in 2015, courtesy of Baseball America:

The 2016 Season

Reading about what scouts thought of him before being signed by the Mariners is informative, but what he’s done since then can help update us on how far he’s come since then.

Carlos Vargas 2016 Stats

GP: 62 PA: 256 AB: 215 R: 41 H: 52 TB: 84 RBI: 35 SB: 2

AVG/OBP/SLG: .242/.344/.391 OPS: 734

2B: 11 3B: 0 HR: 7 ISO: 0.149 BB%: 12.5% SO%: 13.7%

Highlights of his season include the fact that he was tied for 5th in HR despite being one of the youngest players in the league and was able to walk a fair amount while striking out rarely. In a league that often highlights free swingers, this is no small feat.

In order to provide some perspective for how good his statistics are, I thought it would be interesting to see how well Jesus Sanchez (currently ranked the 9th best Rays prospect by BA) performed in the same league but 7 months older in 2015.

Jesus Sanchez 2015 DSL Stats

GP: 61 PA: 268 AB: 239 R: 36 H: 80 TB: 119 RBI: 45 SB: 8

AVG/OBP/SLG: .335/.382/.498 OPS: 880

2B: 13 3B: 7 HR: 4 ISO: 0.163 BB%: 7.5% SO%: 11.9%

There are positives for both prospects when doing a direct comparison. On first glance, Sanchez gets the high marks for displaying much better hitting abilities, higher OPS, and being more fleet of foot, allowing him to manage 7 triples and 8 SB. He also displayed a slight edge in overall power with a 0.014 advantage in ISO.

In short, coming out of the DSL Sanchez did put up better overall statistics.

However, the patience shown at the plate by Vargas with a 12.5% walk rate and ability to avoid striking out while still managing a fairly decent ISO stand out and provide us with hope that he’ll be able to fight off tough pitches and work counts in an above-average manner.

One last note about Vargas from 2016 is that he has performed very well under the spotlight. Whether it’s the International Prospect Series games they played in North Carolina in 2015 (where he went 3 for 6), or the DSL All-Star game (where he was named MVP), he’s managed the pressure well and came out on top.

Expectations and 2017

It’ll be interesting to see where Vargas begins his career within the Rays organization. After his inaugural season in the DSL, Sanchez was promoted to the GCL and handled the promotion extremely well. There’s a good chance that Vargas will have the same promotion for 2017, but a repeat season in the DSL isn’t out of the question at such a young age.

The worry for Vargas is that he may have a hard time adjusting to off speed pitches due to an unconventional swing.

As with any prospect that’s so young coming out of the DSL, we need to damper our expectations and realize that, all too often, these prospects can fall off the prospect map entirely. Just ask the Padres who handed Adys Portillo $2M, or the Reds who paid Juan Duran the same amount, or remember a Rays prospect named Leslie Anderson.

But as Baseball America’s review of the trade describes, the reason Rays fans should be excited about the acquisition of Carlos Vargas is this:

“his potential as a legitimate power-hitting shortstop is intriguing and gave him as much upside as almost anyone in the Mariners system.”

With power to spare and patience at the plate, he is an intriguing prospect to monitor, and if he can continue to be open to instruction, his ceiling is significantly high.