CHARLESTON, S.C.—If Alexander Vargas‘ low Class A debut flew under your radar, that’s OK. When the game was over, the last thing on fans’ minds would have been the first start in full-season ball for a largely unheralded prospect in the Yankees’ stacked system.
Deservedly, all the headlines that day went to Lakewood lefthander Nick Fanti, who tossed a no-hitter against the RiverDogs. It was Fanti’s first complete no-hitter of the season, though he’d thrown 8.2 innings of Lakewood’s no-hitter 72 days earlier as well.
This time, it was Vargas’ turn to shine.
On a cool, breezy Sunday in Charleston, the 20-year-old righthander worked quickly and efficiently in holding the BlueClaws to two runs over six innings of six-hit ball. He struck out three and walked nobody.
His only hiccup came in his final inning, when a triple by Arquimedes Gamboa, a fielder’s choice by Mickey Moniak and Darick Hall’s 19th homer gave Lakewood two runs and tied the game.
Through six starts this season between short-season Staten Island and Charleston, Vargas is 4-1, 2.00 and has allowed just 27 hits in 36 innings. He’s struck out 22 and walked three.
Not bad for a guy who missed all of last year with nagging back injuries.
“From what I’ve seen, he generates a ton of ground balls and has a really, really good changeup,” RiverDogs manager Pat Osborn said. “This kid’s impressive for a 20-year-old.”
Vargas starts his arsenal with a low-90s fastball that features hard sink and allowed him to get 10 of his outs on the ground. He coupled the fastball with a changeup in the low-80s that projects as plus as well as a developing curveball in the upper-70s.
He used the changeup on his last pitch of the game to get a swinging strikeout of Henri Lartigue—who had homered off of him in his first start—that ended the sixth inning.
“He’s got some sink on his fastball,” Osborn said. “And that changeup, I can’t see it from (the catcher’s viewpoint) but from the side it looks like it’s got some bottom to it, which right around the plate area when the ball meets the barrel, it’s got some bottom and they’re pounding it into the ground.”
On Sunday, he also showed impressive ability to work ahead in the count, induce weak contact and keep his pitch count low. He threw just 32 pitches over first three innings, including 12 pitches apiece in the first and third innings and eight in the second inning.
He punctuated the first inning by getting a strikeout of Moniak—the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft—on three consecutive swings and misses in a sequence that went 92 mph fastball, 84 mph changeup, 93 mph fastball.
“He’s throwing strikes with his fastball and changeup, which are really good pitches,” Charleston pitching coach Justin Pope said. “His fastball has really good sink. He throws the fastball and changeup for strikes and he’s developing his curveball, but today he had one three-ball count. He was getting ahead of hitters, and when you get ahead of hitters it makes pitching easier. Not easy, but easier.”
For the rest of the year, Vargas’ watchword is consistency. He’s had an excellent month since leaving extended spring training and he’s done well to make up for the time he lost last year while injured. Now, he has to keep that going and finish the season strong before likely heading to the fall instructional league.
“I started the season with a lot of confidence,” Vargas said with the help of Donny Sands as translator. “I had a lot of confidence going into Staten Island to try to get out of there as fast as I could.”
He accomplished that goal in just four starts. And in his first two turns with the RiverDogs, Vargas has pitched like he wants out of Charleston, too.
NEWS AND NOTES
• After scoping out Charleston and Trenton over the past week, Oakland farm director Billy Owens was back in Charleston again on Sunday. The Yankees and A’s are rumored to be in trade discussions for starter Sonny Gray and possibly first baseman Yonder Alonso.
• One of Oakland’s possible targets in a deal, outfielder Estevan Florial, collected two more hits on Sunday, giving him five in the first two games of the series. On one of his two infield hits on Saturday, scouts clocked Florial at 3.97 second to first base from the right side.
• After exiting Saturday’s game early, Moniak was back in the Lakewood lineup and in center field on Sunday. He went 1-for-4 with a single and was robbed of a second hit because of shift the RiverDogs employed in the sixth inning.
• Phillies outfielder Juan Luis showed off a plus or better arm on a pair of throws, though he might be better served to read the situation more carefully. One of his throws, although powerful, sailed over the cutoff man and allowed a RiverDog runner to take an extra base.