Sometimes the best-laid plans don’t always work out like you hoped. Such was the case in 2023 for Miguel Vargas, the Dodgers’ opening day starter at second base who was sent down to the minors at the All-Star break and never made his way back to the majors this season.
After an impressive age-22 season in Triple-A and making his major league debut in 2022, Vargas was anointed as the Dodgers starting second baseman before spring training began in 2023. He began the year as the Dodgers’ top hitting prospect, and was named among the top 50 prospects in the sport by five national outlets. Optimism reigned.
Vargas’ bat is his strength, and it was just going to a matter of where he might play defensively. He played third base the majority of time in the minors but also saw time at second base, first base, and even left field.
But nothing really worked for Vargas offensively or defensively in 2023.
It didn’t help that he suffered a hairline fracture in his right pinkie to start spring training. The Dodgers wanted Vargas to get reps at second base so he still played in games, but wasn’t allowed to swing the bat in any of his first six games in the Cactus League. He still walked four times in 12 plate appearances with the bat glued to his shoulder, then doubled in the first at-bat in which he was allowed so swing in March.
Vargas was hit by a pitch in his right thumb on April 3, the Dodgers’ fifth game of the regular season, and that didn’t help things. He missed two games, and had only five extra-base hits and no home runs in his first 24 games. He sold out for power in May and hit four home runs with eight doubles and a triple, but only had a .289 on-base percentage.
After that nothing seemed to work. From May 28 through the All-Star break, Vargas went into a 12-for-93 slump (.129/.250/.258) in 32 games.
Coupled with the fact that Vargas was one of the worst defensive second basemen in baseball — minus-seven by Outs Above Average and minus-five by Defensive Runs Saved, in only a half-season — made it an easy call for Vargas to get optioned to Triple-A at the All-Star break, especially with Mookie Betts by then seizing playing time at second base, especially against right-handed pitchers.
“There’s a piece of winning here, and there’s also a piece of getting his mind where he needs to be. He’s never struggled like this,” manager Dave Roberts said just before Vargas was sent down in July. “If it comes down to that, it’s always healthy to have that conversation for young players that are struggling. It would be for the benefit of him, short-term and long-term.”
Vargas hit .288/.407/.479 with a 119 wRC+ the rest of the season in Triple-A Oklahoma City, with a high walk rate (16.1 percent) and relatively-low strikeout rate (20 percent), plus 10 home runs and 15 doubles in 60 games in the minors. He played 28 games at second base, 20 at third base, and seven in left field this year in Triple-A.
The book isn’t yet closed for Vargas, who is still just 24 years old. But he fell behind Michael Busch on the bat-first Dodgers depth chart, and has some work to do to find his way back to regular playing time in the majors.
Stats: .195/.305/.367, 85 wRC+, 7 HR, 15 2B, 4 3B, 81 G, -0.1 bWAR, 0.1 fWAR
Game of the year
Vargas was in the middle of everything in the Dodgers’ 13-1 blowout of the Phillies on May 2 at Dodger Stadium. He had a career-high four hits, including a Dodgers-record-tying three doubles. It was his first major game with multiple extra-base hits. Vargas drove in three runs and scored twice, both season highs.
Vargas has 142 days of major league service time, and one option year remaining, having used options in 2022 and 2023.