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Vargas Gives Dirtbags Two-Way Threat

By Will Kimmey

February 24, 2004

 

 

Jered Weaver easily rates as Long Beach State's best player. The junior righthander racked up 30 strikeouts in his first three starts of the season after dominating for Team USA last summer, and could be drafted among the first five picks come June.

 

But Jason Vargas might just be the eighth-ranked Dirtbags' most important player.

 

Long Beach State assistant coach Don Barbara watched Vargas pitch and hit Cypress (Calif.) Junior College to the California juco championship last year and identified him as a replacement for fellow lefty Abe Alvarez, a second-round pick last year by the Red Sox, in the weekend rotation.

 

"I guess coming in we wanted him to be our third starter," coach Mike Weathers said. "We had two good freshmen (coming in) but didn't know if they'd be ready. We figured if he also hits, that would be second-hand. Our need was greater on the mound, but certainly we knew he could hit."

 

Vargas earned the Sunday starter's role, and in his first three starts, he went 2-1, 3.32 with 20 strikeouts and three walks. The lefthanded hitter's work at the plate has also been first-rate. He won the DH job and was leading the team in batting (.481), on-base percentage (.600), slugging (.630) and intentional walks (three) while batting third.

 

"I'm glad I didn't have to wait very long to get that first hit or win because it takes the pressure off," said Vargas, who became the first two-way player in Weathers' 12 years at Long Beach State, the first nine as an assistant to Dave Snow.

 

"We were kind of leery having a two-way guy," Weathers said. "Before our first series at Cal, I was meeting with the umpires because I've never had a DH/pitcher in the lineup. I didn't know the rules."

 

Four Years, Four Teams

 

Vargas has battled a learning curve of his own. He's on his fourth different team in four different cities in four years. The Twins drafted him in the 43rd round out of Apple Valley (Calif.) High, but he instead chose to attend Louisiana State. Vargas earned a solid amount of playing time for a freshman there, playing 15 games at first base and taking the mound on 13 occasions, but something didn't feel right. "It wasn't the right fit," he said. "I have nothing bad to say about that program or the coaching staff."

 

Vargas transferred to Cypress for the 2003 season, picking a junior college so he'd be draft-eligible. He was the Southern California JC player of the year for his work on the mound and at the plate, but as the season wore on, his arm slot dropped and his velocity fell with it, into the mid-80s. That combined with Vargas' signing bonus demands depressed his draft stock, so he went undrafted.

 

"I really thought I was going to sign and everything started falling apart for me," Vargas said. "I realized I needed to go get focused. I realized that it's not as easy as high school, where talent is going to take you where you want to go. Everyone (in college) is as talented as you, and it's just who wants to work more."

 

That idea led Vargas to Long Beach State. He liked the school's history of producing major league talent and liked the school's hard-nosed mentality even more, especially after getting a recommendation from former Dirtbag J.J. Newkirk, who played for Vargas' father Joe at Apple Valley.

 

"We were real fortunate to get a guy like him," pitching coach Troy Buckley said. "He's real aggressive and very physical. He could be a Friday or Saturday starter at other schools. Stuff-wise, he's probably better than (sophomore lefthander Cesar) Ramos, but Cesar has experience in regionals, and that's why he got the nod for Saturday starter."

 

Vargas showed his new work ethic upon his arrival. He threw with the pitchers in side sessions and took batting practice while the rest of the pitching staff took part in their conditioning regimen. He then used his free time to make up for missed training sessions and weight work.

 

Keep The Change

 

Vargas also proved a fast learner. Buckley taught him to keep his top half aligned with his lower half over the rubber and not drift toward the plate as he twisted through his delivery. The tweak allowed Vargas to repeat his mechanics and keep his arm higher, which in turn increased the velocity on his fastball and improved the break on his curveball.

 

Now he pitches at 88-91 mph, tops out at 95 and even hit 94 in the seventh inning of a recent start.

 

"My velocity right now is beyond where it's ever been," Vargas said. "I want to give all the credit to 'Buck' for helping me. It definitely makes me think what I could be doing now if I would have been here the last three years."

 

Buckley also has helped Vargas improve his changeup in just two weeks. "It really saves him when he doesn't have his fastball command," Buckley said. Vargas already has shown complete confidence in the pitch. After surrendering a first-inning homer to Southern California's Joey Metropoulos on a changeup he left a bit high, Vargas went right back to his change the next inning and induced a pair of swings and misses.

 

The addition of the changeup gives Vargas the three solid pitches he'll need to work out of a rotation in the professional ranks, which combined with his other attributes should put him in the top five rounds of this year's draft.

 

"You're looking at a college lefthander who's an arm-strength guy," Buckley said. "He's not Alvarez as far as pitchability or control, but I think his future is on the mound. Just because of what the draft is, with the risk of high school arms, if he proves himself over a full season, he's not that far away. His days are going to keep getting better."

 

Vargas said he'll hit or pitch at the next level, whatever a team wants him to do. "I know what it's like to get a game-winning hit, and that's a pretty sweet feeling," he said. "But I also like being on the mound at the end of the game."

 

For now, he'll keep doing both for Long Beach State, and doing both very well as his two-way successes cause worry for plenty of coaches--even his own.

 

"We need him to pitch," Weathers said. "Now that he's hitting--if he gets hit by a pitch or turns an ankle running the bases--if he gets hurt, you lose two players. But he says, 'Coach, I know how to do this. I've been doing it all my life.' "

 

And it makes him all the more valuable.

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But Jason Vargas might just be the eighth-ranked Dirtbags' most important player.

 

 

Geez, people need to learn to write. Never thought it would be those that do it for a living.

 

You could interpret this two ways:

 

JV is the MIP for the #8 Dirtbags

 

OR

 

JV is the #8 MIP for the Dirtbags...

 

Sorry, I am bored! :whistle

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But Jason Vargas might just be the eighth-ranked Dirtbags' most important player.

 

 

Geez, people need to learn to write. Never thought it would be those that do it for a living.

 

You could interpret this two ways:

 

JV is the MIP for the #8 Dirtbags

 

OR

 

JV is the #8 MIP for the Dirtbags...

 

Sorry, I am bored! :whistle i dint get that part eiter but i think they meant hes the 8th MIP on that team. Who drafted their SS? Was he even on the draft?

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Guest Juanky

But Jason Vargas might just be the eighth-ranked Dirtbags' most important player.

 

 

Geez, people need to learn to write. Never thought it would be those that do it for a living.

 

You could interpret this two ways:

 

JV is the MIP for the #8 Dirtbags

 

OR

 

JV is the #8 MIP for the Dirtbags...

 

Sorry, I am bored! :whistle i dint get that part eiter but i think they meant hes the 8th MIP on that team. Who drafted their SS? Was he even on the draft? They meant the team is 8th-ranked

Link to comment
Share on other sites

But Jason Vargas might just be the eighth-ranked Dirtbags' most important player.

 

 

Geez, people need to learn to write. Never thought it would be those that do it for a living.

 

You could interpret this two ways:

 

JV is the MIP for the #8 Dirtbags

 

OR

 

JV is the #8 MIP for the Dirtbags...

 

Sorry, I am bored! :whistle i dint get that part eiter but i think they meant hes the 8th MIP on that team. Who drafted their SS? Was he even on the draft? They meant the team is 8th-ranked and that he is the most important player

Link to comment
Share on other sites

But Jason Vargas might just be the eighth-ranked Dirtbags' most important player.

 

 

Geez, people need to learn to write. Never thought it would be those that do it for a living.

 

You could interpret this two ways:

 

JV is the MIP for the #8 Dirtbags

 

OR

 

JV is the #8 MIP for the Dirtbags...

 

Sorry, I am bored! :whistle i dint get that part eiter but i think they meant hes the 8th MIP on that team. Who drafted their SS? Was he even on the draft? They meant the team is 8th-ranked and that he is the most important player Yeah, c'mon guys it isn't that tough. Thats good grammar, you just read it wrong.

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