Perhaps the most overlooked player on the 40-man roster is infielder Ildemaro Vargas. After washing out of the Cardinals system by 2014, Vargas played 30 games for the Bridgeport Bluefish before being signed by the Diamondbacks in 2015. Vargas was assigned to the Class A Kane County Cougars and hit .321/.385/.438 in 86 games. Vargas was 2 years older than the average player in the Midwest League, so you expected dominance. In 2016, the Diamondbacks gave him an aggressive assignment to AA Mobile, where he .276/.325/.372 with fantastic glovework at both SS and 2B that earned him Southern League All-Star honors. Afterwards, Vargas was promoted to AAA Reno, where he showed he was capable of handling more advanced pitching with a .354/.418/.449 slash line and more walks (20) than strikeouts (15). The team rewarded his performance and added him to the 40-man roster in November.
At the MLB level, there’s little reason to believe he’ll develop into a regular starter. His best fit would be on the bench, where his versatility in the field would be useful. Vargas has more than 100 starts at 2B, 3B, and SS at the minor league level, most of them coming at SS although he played mostly 2B at Reno. His bat offers little pop, with a career ISO of .088. At a more appropriate competition level for his age, Vargas posted a .760 OPS and that included a .868 clip in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. The AAA line is fueled by a .372 BABIP, which isn’t happening at the MLB level in a significant enough sample size.
So what type of skills does he bring to the Diamondbacks? Aside from being a versatile infielder defensively, although his best position is 2B, Vargas put up very low strikeout rates in AA Mobile (6.8%) and AAA Reno (5.8%). In 2016, he walked more (44) than he struck out (39) over 575 plate appearances. That means he will put the ball in play and can be a tough out since he doesn’t chase out of the zone often. That skill set is very useful for hitting off the bench, since he’d get only 1 AB for the game in that role. His versatility in the field is a good fit for the National League as a defensive sub in a double switch, pinch hit appearance, or a straight-up defensive replacement.
His primary competition in Spring will be utility infielder Phil Gosselin, fellow prospect Jack Reinheimer, and Ketel Marte for what could possibly be the final infield spot. Gosselin is the safest projection, although his defensive value is minimal and only produced a 81 wRC+ with a .339 BABIP, so the team can look to improve there. Reinheimer has an average glove for SS, but has the defensive chops to handle 2B and 3B in a pinch and very little pop while strictly batting from the right side of the plate. Ketel Marte was picked up in the Taijuan Walker trade, where he’ll also be in the mix for the starting SS spot. All four players have options remaining for 2016, although the Diamondbacks are more likely to DFA Gosselin to trade him later should he not win a spot on the roster.
While prospects like Domingo Leyba, Dawel Lugo, and Jazz Chisholm fill up the prospect books, the Diamondbacks do have a middle infielder prospect that flew under the radar and could be a contributor for the MLB club in 2017. The switch-hitter isn’t going to be a big needle mover and his likely ceiling is probably as a bench player, but his glove and ability to switch hit make him a good fit for the Diamondbacks. I would not be surprised one bit if he’s able to make the roster out of Spring Training this year.