The Minnesota Twins promoted first base prospect Kennys Vargas to the majors a few days ago and by all indications he will be getting a full major league trial. He first came to national attention a few weeks ago in the 2014 Futures Game, but he's been playing well for four years now and I don't think he's a fluke.
Vargas was signed by the Twins as an undrafted free agent out of Puerto Rico in 2009. The Twins scout the island extensively and found him even though he slipped through the draft net, signing him for $90,000. He opened up with a .257/.369/.404 line in the Gulf Coast League, which was OK, but he returned there in 2010 and was excellent, hitting .324/.388/.502. However, he was repeating the league and scouts were worried about his weight, so he didn't show up highly on prospect lists.
He kept hitting in 2011: .322/.377/.489 for Elizabethton in the Appalachian League, although his season ended early when he was suspended for using a banned weight loss substance. He returned to action late in 2012 and continued hitting, with a .318/.419/.610 line for Beloit in the Midwest League, with 11 homers, 28 walks and 41 strikeouts in 154 at-bats. That was the first time I had the opportunity to see him play, and I was struck particularly by his good batting eye and a fine feel for hitting: he was not a one-dimensional masher and didn't fall into the trap of trying to pull everything. He handled both fastballs and breaking balls well.
Vargas hit .267/.344/.468 with 19 homers, 33 doubles, 50 walks, and 105 strikeouts for High-A Fort Myers in 2013, ranking second in the power-difficult Florida State League in home runs. He adapted easily to Double-A this year, hitting .281/.360/.472 with 17 homers, 43 walks, and 68 strikeouts in 356 at-bats.
A switch-hitter born on August 1, 1990, Vargas is a big guy, listed at 6-5. He's been as high as 275 pounds officially but was larger than that for a while. He's slimmed down some but will never be svelte. His defense was quite poor earlier in his career but it has improved: he won't win gold gloves with his range but he is playable there as long as he keeps the weight off. Even if he's just a DH, Vargas holds promise.
The bat is the key thing here. Vargas has more raw power than anyone in the Twins system not named Miguel Sano. He hasn't always tapped that power for home runs consistently, although he was well on pace to set a career high in long balls this year. He's spent his entire career playing in park/league contexts that are tough on young power hitters, yet he's remained consistently productive, with a 130 wRC+ last year and 129 this year. He has a good eye, draws walks, but also makes contact readily, avoiding the sort of contact problems that can hold young power hitters back.
Vargas has a well-known friendship with David Ortiz and there are some similarities between the two, although Vargas won't be that good; he's not going to hit 54 homers or bat .332 as Ortiz has done (at least I don't think so). But once he settles in, I think Vargas will be a productive hitter, say .270/.330/.450 or so, along the lines of Kendrys Morales in '12 and '13, not superstar production but quite useful. That could be underselling him; he's still two or three years away from his theoretical peak.
All in all, Vargas was one hell of a find as an undrafted free agent.