At one time, Kennys Vargas, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 290 pounds, appeared to be the slugger of the future for the Twins. But with Joe Mauer established at first base and a variety of players to fill the designated hitter slot, including Miguel Sano, Vargas never really found a home with the Twins. Instead, he spent most of his time with the organization in the minors.
But that changed Wednesday after it was announced that Vargas has agreed to a one-year deal to play in Japan for the Chiba Lotte Marines. Lesser known major league players have done well in Japan, so I expect Vargas to hit his share of home runs for the Marines, and perhaps, even become a star. Over 10 seasons at all levels — the majors, minors and winter league ball — Vargas slugged 182 home runs, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
The Marines play in Japan’s Pacific League, which, like the American League, uses the designated hitter rule. The Marines likely are excited to have Vargas because the club finished dead last in 2018. But there have been better days, including in 1995 when Bobby Valentine managed the club and dramatically turned around a team that had struggled for years. Joining him that year was longtime player, Julio Franco, who hit better than .300 that season. For his troubles, Valentine was fired, but he returned to Chiba, which is outside Tokyo, in 2004 and later won the Japan Series with the Marines in 2005.
Hideki Irabu, the troubled but talented pitcher, came up with the Marines, and Twins fans will recall Tsuyoshi Nishioka, a former infielder for the Marines who quickly flamed out with the Twins in 2011-2012.
It appears that Derek Shelton has swallowed his pride and will remain the Twins’ bench coach in 2019, according to MLB.com. That couldn’t have been easy to do because Shelton appeared to have the inside track on becoming the Twins’ next manager, but that job ultimately went to Rocco Baldelli. At least Shelton and Baldelli know each other.
Shelton was the hitting coach for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010 when Baldelli was still a player, according to MLB.com.
Meanwhile, Shelton has returned, but a number of coaches were let go.
According to MLB.com:
Pitching coach Garvin Alston, bullpen coach Eddie Guardado, third-base coach Gene Glynn, first-base coach Jeff Smith and Major League coach Jeff Pickler will not be brought back next year. The only returning coaches are hitting coach James Rowson, assistant hitting coach Rudy Hernandez and Shelton.
Pickler was hired to be the “conduit” coach, someone who would “serve as a conduit between the front office and the coaches to convey analytics to the staff and players,” MLB.com reported in 2016.
Now, that’s Baldelli’s job.