Vargas impresses Kelly with commitment to defense

First baseman among trio of Twins prospects featured in Futures Game

Vargas impresses Kelly with commitment to defense

MINNEAPOLIS -- When Tom Kelly sat down at the breakfast table Sunday morning, the first thing Twins prospect Kennys Vargas brought up was how hard he's been working to improve his defense.

Kelly, the long-time former manager of the Twins and the manager for the U.S. Team in Sunday's Sirius/XM All-Star Futures Game, is still very much connected to the organization and mentors many of the club's top prospects during Spring Training, including Vargas.

"That was unbelievable," Kelly said. "We really stress defense, or I do, and it's the first thing the man said to me. 'I'm really working on my defense.'"

Vargas, who is known for his prodigious power from both sides of the plate, could reach the Majors soon, but has been working hard to get better defensively at first base and has even volunteered to work in the outfield to improve his versatility. The Twins are hesitant about the 6-foot-5, 275-pounder roaming the outfield, but his work ethic is evident.

Vargas was one of three Twins players -- joining right-handers Alex Meyer and Jose Berrios -- who participated in the Futures Game at Target Field in a game that featured plenty of Minnesota flair with Twins legend Bert Blyleven managing the World Team and Kelly managing the U.S. Team. The U.S. Team came away with a 3-2 victory and has won five straight Futures Games.

"It's pretty cool," said Vargas, who joined Berrios on the World Team while Meyer pitched for the U.S. team. "To be in a big league stadium like Target Field, I know I can be here soon. It's great."

Vargas' power was on full display during batting practice, as he launched a homer over the batter's eye in center field while batting from the right side and hit a red truck parked on Target Plaza while batting from the left side.

The 23-year-old is hitting .291/.364/.480 with 15 homers and 13 doubles in 83 games at Double-A New Britain with a swing that's patterned after Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. The Puerto Rico native has become friends with Ortiz, and talks to him about once a week during the season.

But Vargas knows he'll need to keep working on his defense before he reaches the Majors, and his attitude is what impresses Kelly most.

"I work a lot with him in Spring Training," Vargas said of Kelly. "I love that guy. He talks to me about defense all the time. He tells me I need to work on my defense if I'm going to make the big leagues."

Vargas, who went 1-for-4 with a double, was joined on the World Team by his fellow countryman Berrios, who started the game and tossed a perfect first inning with a strikeout.

Berrios, 20, was recently promoted to Double-A after posting a 1.96 ERA with 109 strikeouts in 96 1/3 innings at Class A Advanced Fort Myers. He's ranked as the club's No. 5 prospect by MLB.com and could continue to rise quickly through the system given his advanced feel for pitching.

Berrios said it was an honor to get the start in the Futures Game, and is looking forward to making many more starts at Target Field in the near future.

"I'm blessed," Berrios said. "There are a lot of good players here. I'm thankful for it. It's a good experience for us."

Meyer, meanwhile, pitched a scoreless fifth inning for the U.S. Team in his second career Futures Game appearance. Meyer, who also participated in the game in 2012 in Kansas City while still in the Nationals' organization, was a late addition to the game with fellow right-hander Trevor May getting scratched because of a strained calf.

Meyer, 24, is Minnesota's top pitching prospect and is ranked as the game's No. 24 overall prospect by MLB.com. He's been on an 85-pitch limit throughout the season because he dealt with a shoulder injury last year, and only needed four pitches to get through his inning of work on Sunday.

Meyer is the closest to the big leagues among the three prospects and could pitch again at Target Field this season. But the Twins are being cautious with the 6-foot-9 hurler, who has posted a 3.43 ERA with 103 strikeouts in 89 1/3 innings this season.

Meyer said he's still not sure if the Twins plan to shut him down early this season or if he'll move to the bullpen late in the year, but said he was just excited to finally get his chance to pitch at Target Field for the first time.

"It's awesome," Meyer said. "To be able to play at one of the best ballparks in baseball is a neat experience. And to have it in front of the hometown fans, it's the closest you can get it to it being the big leagues."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.