His first time on a big league diamond, Miguel Vargas came exactly as advertised.
There was patience at the plate, with the Dodgers’ rookie laying off a couple of two-strike pitches out of the zone in his first career at-bat Wednesday.
There was power in the swing, the right-handed hitter scorching a 106-mph rocket the other way for an RBI ground-rule double.
Then, the highly touted 22-year-old prospect — one of several young talents the Dodgers protected during a quiet trade deadline the day before — flashed his swaggering self-confidence too.
On the next pitch, and completely of his own volition, he broke for third base and stole it easily with a head-first slide.
“I just felt incredible,” Vargas said through an interpreter when asked what compelled his audacious attempt. “I didn’t feel like anyone could stop me.”
The San Francisco Giants sure didn’t Wednesday night as Vargas went two for four with two RBIs in his major league debut, helping the Dodgers to a 3-0 win in front of 35,400 at Oracle Park.
“I was really nervous when I was on the on-deck circle [before the first at-bat],” Vargas said. “But once I stepped in the box, I didn’t feel anything.”
For months, Vargas had been knocking on the door of a big league call-up.
After evolving his swing and adding pull side power, he emerged as one of the Dodgers best minor leaguers in 2021.
A consensus top-100 prospect entering this season, he had a couple of dazzling performances this spring as an invitee to major league camp, leaving an impression on manager Dave Roberts and his staff.
He then eliminated any lingering doubt about his readiness by tearing up triple A with a .291 batting average, 15 home runs, 72 RBIs and an .880 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, earning him a spot in last month’s Futures Game at Dodger Stadium.
“He’s just growing into the total package,” director of player development Will Rhymes said then.
Still, Vargas had to wait, biding his time behind other veterans on the team’s organization depth chart while his name was constantly mentioned in trade rumors leading up to Tuesday’s deadline.
Vargas said he ignored the speculation and focused on his game — making his defense a point of emphasis at third base and in the outfield, the latter a position he’d never played before this season.
“It’s a new position and it was challenging at first,” Vargas said. “But now I feel pretty comfortable there.”
He finally got a call to join the major league team this week, though he was initially told it would be as a taxi squad member.
However, in the wake of a deadline-day roster shuffle, which included Justin Turner going on the injured list, the team changed course and put Vargas on the active roster instead.
He arrived in San Francisco midway through Tuesday night’s game, greeting his new teammates with hugs in the dugout.
Then, he shined in the Dodgers’ win Wednesday, opening the scoring with his double in the second inning before tacking on another RBI with an infield single in the fourth.
Vargas’ confidence, Roberts said, is “innate,” something the manager says he believes comes from Vargas’ father, Lazaro, who was a legendary player in Cuba — where he and Vargas defected from in 2015.
“He’s always looking at the field, understands the game,” Roberts said. “It’s an uncanny ability to slow things down.”
Julio Urías pitched six-plus scoreless innings in the win, lowering his ERA to 2.57. Reliever Evan Phillips escaped a bases-loaded jam in the seventh, the second straight night he extinguished the Giants’ biggest threat.
And Craig Kimbrel narrowly avoided disaster in ninth, loading the bases with one out before holding on for his 19th save.
Afterward, however, Vargas was the center of attention, greeted with a beer shower upon returning to the clubhouse before fielding questions in front of his locker with an ear-to-ear grin.
“I always dreamed of this moment and I prepared myself for this moment,” Vargas said. “I was ready for this moment.”
It’s unclear how long Vargas might stay in the majors.
Turner and Chris Taylor (who had two home runs during his triple A rehabilitation assignment Wednesday) could be back by next week. And while Roberts said Vargas could play left field and various spots on the infield, the roster crunch could prevent the rookie from getting regular at-bats.
Still, Roberts didn’t eliminate the possibility of Vargas contributing down the stretch.
“He certainly has a ton of talent, so to put him in this environment is certainly a good opportunity,” Roberts said. “Yeah, it could be short. It could be longer. I guess only time will tell.”