This is part four of an eight-part series previewing the 2017 Dragons. Players listed here are candidates for positions on the 25-man Dragons season-opening roster.
This preview is an unofficial projection of possible roster candidates. Minor League rosters are not established until April 3. Spring training variables including performance, injuries, trades, and additional player acquisitions will impact the roster accordingly.
Coming up on Friday, March 17, Minor League spring training games will begin in Arizona. On that date, the Chicago White Sox will send Double-A and Triple-A teams to Goodyear to play the Reds corresponding workout groups (Louisville and Pensacola) while the two Reds Single-A teams will travel to the White Sox facility to play their counterparts. The Dayton club will play the White Sox corresponding group, which is Kannapolis of the South Atlantic League. As we explained in our first preview, the rosters from that day will undergo huge turnover before they are set to start the year as the domino effect occurs from cuts made in the Reds big league camp. It is possible that on March 17, the workout group playing as Daytona will have more 2017 Dragons than the group playing as Dayton.
Click links on each name for career stats and player information.
Candidates: Hector Vargas, Alberti Chavez.
Hector Vargas was on the Dragons opening day roster in 2016 and saw plenty of playing time over the first two months of the season. He played in 36 of the Dragons first 53 games before being sent back to extended spring training and then eventually on to Billings when their season began later in June.
Vargas played all over the infield for the Dragons in 2016, appearing in 13 games at third base, 12 at shortstop, and five at second base. He was never really able to find a groove at the plate with the Dragons as his batting average generally hovered between .190 and .210. Vargas finished at .194 with a slugging percentage of .240 and an on-base percentage of only .215. He did not have a home run. His OPS of .455 was a far cry from what Vargas had done in Billings in 2015, when he hit .296 and had an OPS of .720. Vargas showed some athleticism with the Dragons, both on the bases and in the field, but the tall, slender native of the Dominican Republic struggled mightily at the plate.
When the Billings season opened on June 17, Vargas was firmly entrenched as the Mustangs everyday shortstop and did not play a single game at any other position. His performance as a hitter at Billings was the polar opposite of what he did in Dayton. Vargas batted .352 at Billings to rank fifth best in the Pioneer League. He had six home runs and 41 RBI, adding 12 stolen bases, with only 19 strikeouts in 210 at-bats. His slugging percentage of .538 and his OPS of .903 were outstanding numbers. With runners in scoring position and opposing hurlers utilizing their entire arsenals of pitches, Vargas hit .406. He was selected as the league's all-star shortstop and the conclusion of the season.
Vargas has had five different stops in the Reds organization and has hit at least .296 at every spot except his half-season with the Dragons in 2016. His career batting average is .302 and he was named "Best Hitter" in the Reds Instructional League camp last fall. He clearly has some offensive skills, but he is one of many hitters who have found the jump from Billings to Dayton to be an enormous one.
Vargas figures to return for a second season with the Dragons, not in the utility role that he filled in 2016, but as an everyday shortstop. Much like his former 2016 teammate Jose Siri, who also struggled in Dayton before a huge year at Billings, Vargas will be hoping lessons learned during a difficult first season will lead to better days in his repeat year.
Alberti Chavez has played briefly with the Dragons in each of the last two seasons and is capable of filling the utility role for the club in 2017. He can play anywhere in the infield. During his five-year Minor League career, Chavez has played every position except pitcher and catcher. He likely will not be needed in the outfield in Dayton, but over his career, he has played 61 games at second base, 52 at shortstop, and 50 at third base.
Chavez played in 38 games at Billings in 2016, batting .303 with one home run and 11 RBI, posting a .710 OPS. He also had a home run with the Dragons despite getting only nine at-bats with the Dayton club.
The list of Dayton shortstops over the years is an impressive one, featuring Zack Cozart, Paul Janish, Didi Gregorius, and several players who later moved to new positions, including Todd Frazier, Billy Hamilton, and Adam Rosales. Some of those players actually spent multiple years with the Dragons before reaching the Major Leagues, something Hector Vargas will try to do. If Vargas can simply hit at a level midway between what he did in Dayton in 2016 and what he later did in Billings, the Dragons will be well-served at the position.
Next up: Third Basemen