Since he showed up in the major leagues full time a month ago, Miguel Vargas’ pregame work has largely stayed the same.
The Dodgers rookie will be among the first players on the field, his long curly hair flopping around through a series of fielding drills at all four infield positions, then work out across the outfield.
He’ll converse with base coaches Dino Ebel and Clayton McCullough, and alternate reps with veteran teammates such as Trayce Thompson, Mookie Betts and Hanser Alberto.
Then, as first pitch nears, he’ll be one of the last to take batting practice, unleashing towering drives with a tantalizing right-handed swing that has made him one of the more highly touted prospects in the game.
Every day, the routine bears another lesson, another tip, another part of big-league life that Vargas hadn’t before considered.
If his time as a September call-up counted as an introductory course, then this week feels more like honors-level work when he became the only rookie to make the Dodgers’ National League Division Series roster.
Dodgers outfielder Cody Bellinger struggled at the plate and saved two runs in Game 2 of the NLDS against the San Diego Padres but will be benched for Game 3.
“A couple months ago, I was in OKC, trying to get my debut, and now I’m here, on the roster for the postseason,” Vargas said in the Dodgers dugout Wednesday, with a single cross hanging from his left ear and a wide smile planted on his face. “It was a long way. It means a lot. I don’t even have the words to describe it.”
Vargas arrived in the Dodgers clubhouse late in the season with big expectations. He was the team’s No. 3 overall prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, and a consensus top-100 talent in the minor leagues.
He’d torn up triple-A pitching, batting .304 with 17 home runs and 82 RBIs in his first season with Oklahoma City.
In his Aug. 3 debut with the Dodgers, he followed up a double in his first at-bat with an immediate, and unplanned, steal of third base.
“To have this youthful enthusiasm,” manager Dave Roberts said that day, “it kind of injects that joy in all of us.”
The rest of Vargas’ debut campaign wasn’t as flashy.
He batted just .170 over 18 games, collecting a home run and eight RBIs while striking out 12 times in 50 plate appearances.
His spot on the NLDS roster was no sure thing after the Dodgers finished the year with a well-defined group of 13 veteran position players.
Yet Vargas’ potential at the plate, speed on the bases and ability to play in the outfield — even though his defense remains his biggest weakness — were enough to earn a nod over Alberto.
“He has been incredible since he has been up here just having conversations with guys … being a sponge and soaking it all in,” Justin Turner said before the series. “I have a feeling he is going to take some good at-bats for us. Some big at-bats for us.”
That hasn’t happened yet. Vargas didn’t start Games 1 or 2, and in the latter was bypassed for an eighth-inning pinch-hit situation in favor of backup catcher Austin Barnes.
Vargas’ big-league education, however, hasn’t stopped. The on-the-field, in-the-dugout and behind-the-scenes lessons continue. And so far, he has relished every minute.
“Playing around these guys here, you can see the talent, you can see the mentality they have,” Vargas said. “It’s always like, I learn something new every day, something that can help me.”
Ironically, it’s Alberto who has become one of the rookie’s biggest mentors.
A seventh-year veteran whose infectious positivity has lifted the Dodgers clubhouse all year, Alberto immediately took Vargas under his wing when the rookie joined the team.
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He would invite Vargas to hit with him in the cage, or take the field early for drills.
He helped bridge the gap between the 22-year-old prospect and a roster with an average age of almost 30.
As one of the few veteran Latino players on this year’s Dodgers team, Alberto shared his own experiences as a young player with the promising Cuban native.
“He’s that person that always tries to help you,” Vargas said.
That didn’t change following Tuesday’s announcement that Vargas had beat out Alberto for the team’s final roster spot.
“He’s a bright spot for the future,” Alberto said in Spanish. “I think this scene is important for him.”
Before Game 1, Vargas and Alberto, who is still with the club in case of an injury, met next to the cage during batting practice. They shared a laugh, a handshake and an embrace. Then, for the next several minutes, they knelt down side by side, deep in conversation before Vargas’ first big league playoff game.
“When he has the opportunity to play every day and be a hero for the team [in the future], enjoy it, but without forgetting about the work, the discipline, all that,” Alberto said. “We’re always talking. He’s a young guy. The good thing is, he always listens, he’s attentive.”
When asked how difficult it was to miss the NLDS roster, Alberto referred to Vargas’ potential again.
“At the end of the day, I’ve always been clear that I control what I can,” he said. “They know Miguel can play outfield and he’s fast, which is very important. But I’m good. The important thing here is to win. And I’m going to be ready.”
In the meantime, he’s been helping his newest teammate prepare for his first October moment, too, adding to the steady stream of major league wisdom that Vargas continues to absorb while awaiting his next opportunity.
“They made me feel so comfortable in the clubhouse, on the field,” Vargas said. “That’s why we’re the best team. These guys, on and off the field, they’re amazing.”
Staff writer Jorge Castillo contributed to this report.
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