- 2018 rating: 4.26
- 2017 rating: 3.39
- 2018 salary: league minimum
- 2018 performance: 14 games, 20 PA, .211/.250/.368 = .618 OPS
- 2019 status: Pre-arbitration
After making his debut in June last year, it seemed possible that Ildemaro Vargas might take the next step in 2018. But for one reason or another, it didn’t happen. As last season, his playing time was almost entirely limited to after the rosters expanded on September 1st. Two seasons into his career, and the 27-year-old Vargas has managed exactly two plate appearances before that date on the calendar. Neither of them came this year, with Ildemaro making his first appearance in extra innings on September 6.
It was the first of eight consecutive appearances off the bench, though he didn’t do anything to impress in the role, going 0-for-8 with four strikeouts and a double-play. He got his first start on September 19, and picked up his first hit and run scored that day, It was back to the pine thereafter, with just one more start for Vargas the rest of the way. That did prove quite a memorable one, coming against the Padres in the penultimate game of the season. Ildemaro opened the scoring for Arizona with an RBI single, and followed that up with his career first home-run, a two-run shot off Jacob Nix (below), to give him his first multi-hit game. He also drew his first major-league walk in that game.
The following day, he was pranked by his team-mates, but just like in 2017, Vargas finished the season with four hits. With only 20 plate-appearances in total, it’s hard to say much based on that. A better indicator might be his numbers with the Aces, for whom he appeared in 124 games. There, he hit .311, and was very much a guy who put the ball in play, rarely walking or striking out. Over his 572 PA for Reno, Ildemaro managed only 30 walks and 46 strikeouts, giving him an overall line of .311/.348/.445 for a .793 OPS. Given the team average OPS was .803, that’s only somewhat alright, though is mitigated by Vargas having been the Aces’ everyday starter at shortstop.
He’s currently back home in Venezuela, playing in the winter league there for the Cardenales de Lara. At time of writing (Monday night), it has been more of the same for Ildemaro. Over 15 games, he’s hitting .308, which is pretty good on the surface. However, Vargas has only two walks in almost seventy plate-appearances - albeit with only two strikeouts - which have helped keep his OPS down to a less impressive .744. At his age, it seems doubtful he’s going to learn significantly more plate discipline going forward, and the Ildemaro we see now is, more than likely, to be the Ildemaro the Diamondbacks are going to get.
It isn’t necessarily a terrible thing, especially since Vargas is a switch-hitter. That said, this year he was considerably better as a left-handed batter, with an OPS almost a hundred and ninety points better. And he’s far from the only switch-hitting middle infielder available, with Eduardo Escobar, Ketel Marte and Domingo Leyba all also offering the same flexibility. Escobar and Marte are likely superior from both sides, while the 23-year-old Leyba is both younger and seems to have better plate discipline. Though Ildemaro’s Peralta-like resurrection out of independent ball is a lovely story, and one which perhaps deserves more attention than it has received, I’m not exactly seeing any Silver Sluggers in Vargas’s future.
Even if the team decides to thin the infield herd a bit, for example by non-tendering Chris Owings, it seems looks unlikely Vargas will have a spot on the Opening Day roster, save if health issues impact those ahead of him on the depth chart. One possible wild-card scenario here might be if they also decided to move Marte to center, going with a middle-infield of Escobar and Nick Ahmed. That could open up a bench spot for Ildemaro, with his ability to back-up at both second and short. It’s too early to say this is more than a possibility, and right now, it looks like he’ll begin the season with the Aces, though should have a better shot at pre-September games in 2019.