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June 26. 2014 9:45PM

On Baseball: The next Big Papi?


New Britian Rock Cats Kennys Vargas watches a ball in flight during his batting practice before playing the New Hampshire Fisher Cats Thursday in Manchester. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER -- Kennys Vargas is a big man with a big smile.

One of the top Minnesota Twins prospects, he has a lot of reason to smile lately. Vargas was in town Thursday night with New Britain to take on the New Hampshire Fisher Cats and brought with him a .313 batting average, OPS of .919, and a team-high 57 RBIs and 14 home runs through 71 games. Vargas had homered in four of six games heading into Thursday’s game.

“I am happy with the season I am having right now,” Vargas said. “New Britain is awesome. The people, my teammates, everything is really good. This is the best step in my career. I am enjoying this year.”

This is the first year at the Double-A level for Vargas, who hails from Puerto Rico. At 6-foot-5 and 269 pounds, he’s been compared to Boston’s David Ortiz. There’s the size comparison and the fact that Ortiz was once a Twins prospect. Both men are also first basemen/DH.

But Vargas has something on Big Papi: He’s a switch hitter.

“I’ve seen him come up through our system as a young kid in our Gulf Coast Rookie League and work all the way through and just seeing him work and get better every year is fun to see,” said New Britain manager Jeff Smith. “This year, from both sides of the plate I’ve seen consistency and a good work routine.”

Vargas is on the Twins’ 40-man roster and will represent the team in the MLB All-Star Futures Game next month in Minnesota. He said that one of his main goals this season was to work on his defense at first base, where he played every day back home in Puerto Rico during winter baseball.

“I feel pretty good. I have to work more and do better, but I’m doing all right,” Vargas said. “I am preparing my body for (playing every day). I am so happy for the season I am having right now.”

Vargas has had some good people to help him defensively along the way.

“It’s finding a good routine. He had (former Twin and Red Sox) Doug Mientkiewicz down there at Fort Meyers that he did good things with and then working with (Hall of Famer) Paul Molitor last year…he keeps getting better,” Smith said. “He is set up and being ready when the pitch crosses the plate and he’s really picking balls well and he’s got a good, strong arm. People see the size and they see how athletic he is. He’s a very good athlete and that goes a long way.”

Vargas’ demeanor also goes a long way.

“As good as he is on the field, he’s such a good clubhouse guy. He’s always in the game in the dugout, keeps everybody having fun. He’s a great guy to have on the team,” Smith said. “You can’t find too many guys that always have a smile on their face and he always has a smile and always has energy and that’s contagious for the team.”

That positive energy also means Vargas is able to put aside the “top prospect” tag and lofty expectations placed on him from outside entities.

“I don’t think about that. I just try to play hard and enjoy the game every day and play like it’s the last game in my career,” Vargas said. Just enjoy the moment.”

Staff writer Ian Clark can be reached at iclark@unionleader.com.


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