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What to expect from San Diego Padres rookie Cesar Vargas

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The San Diego Padres have promoted right-hander Cesar Vargas to the major league roster. He will make his MLB debut tonight against the St. Louis Cardinals. Vargas has received little prospect attention but he's actually quite interesting. Here's a quick take.

First, basic background from the 2016 Baseball Prospect Book:

Cesar Vargas, RHP, San Diego Padres
Bats: R Throws: R HT: 6-2 WT: 220 DOB: December 30, 1991

Cesar Vargas is a Mexican right-hander who pitched seven years in the Yankees system, with generally good results. He never ranked highly on prospects lists however, and the Padres (who are making a big push to sign Mexican talent) picked him up as a free agent this past winter. Vargas has a standard low-90s fastball but his curve is a plus pitch when he’s on and he has a long record of success as both a starter and reliever. Bullpen work is the most likely destination in the majors and he could be a source of quality filler innings. Grade C, but interesting if you like pitchers who get unfairly ignored.


Vargas was used as a reliever in the Yankees system last year, posting a 3.08 ERA with a 76/22 K/BB in 72 innings between Double-A and Triple-A.  The Padres have been using him as a starter with San Antonio, with good results thus far; 12.2 innings with two runs allowed in Double-A, with a 14/1 K/BB.

As noted, Vargas has a long track record of success in both starting and relief roles, posting a career 3.07 ERA in 469 minor league innings, with a 445/141 K/BB. He's started 48 games in his minor league career but also collected 18 saves in 2014-2015.

Command and control are his best attributes. Vargas doesn't have blazing heat, but his 90-92 MPH fastball can play up due to the contrast with his highly deceptive off-speed stuff.

He works the lower part of the strike zone effectively and is generally a ground ball pitcher who gives up few homers.

Vargas was usually overlooked in favor of other prospects when he was in the Yankees system, but signing him as a free agent was a fine move by San Diego. He could be an efficient number four or five starter but has the flexibility to be used in the bullpen if necessary.

Key things to watch for his debut: do his off-speed pitches work well against major league hitters? Does he go right after them, or does he pitch defensively and nibble too much? Does he suppress long fly balls and home runs effectively, or will major league hitters have an easier time than their minor league counterparts driving the ball for distance against him?