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Dodgers’ Miguel Vargas embraces change of plans

LOS ANGELES — The path to an everyday role with the Dodgers in 2023 seemed to be mapped out for Miguel Vargas.

The top hitting prospect in the system, Vargas had played third base more than any other position by far during his four seasons in the minor leagues. During his big-league cameo last season, three of his seven starts in the field came at third base (and the other four in left field).

When the Dodgers let veteran third baseman Justin Turner leave in free agency, the way seemed clear for Vargas to open next season as the Dodgers’ primary third baseman.

But the Dodgers will head to spring training next week with Vargas penciled in at second base – a position he played in just 28 games over those four minor-league seasons and not at all in the majors.

“At this point – and we’ll continue to evaluate – he’s taking a lot of reps and that (second base) is his focus as of right now,” General Manager Brandon Gomes said. “And that’s trending really well. He’s a great athlete, and he’s working incredibly hard as well.”

Over the past four seasons, Gavin Lux has started more games at second base (153) than anyone else for the Dodgers. He is moving back to his natural position, replacing the departed Trea Turner at shortstop this season.

Next in line has been Max Muncy (129 starts at second over the past four seasons). But the Dodgers plan to make Muncy the primary third baseman – a position he played more often than Justin Turner last year with the DH rule adopted in the National League.

“I think I performed pretty well there last year. Our internal metrics were very good for me,” Muncy said, an analytic assessment Gomes also mentioned. “I did start feeling very comfortable because I was playing it an awful lot. Third base is a position I’ve always said that you need to play consistently to feel comfortable over there. When I was bouncing around and played there once every week, two weeks I felt like it was a very hard position to play. But when I started playing it every day I felt really comfortable. It got a lot easier for me.”

Second base could get a lot more difficult to play in 2023. The new defensive shift rules will require two infielders on either side of second base at all times. There will be no more loading up the right side against left-handed hitters. That increases the need for athleticism and range from second basemen. But Gomes would not say that the 23-year-old Vargas’ athleticism was the reason behind choosing an inexperienced Vargas to start at second base with Muncy at third.

“We’re just trying to piece together the best possible infield,” Gomes said. “I think Muncy is a great athlete, personally. He’s always graded out very well defensively, he can move very well. Vargy is our second- or third-fastest guy on the team which is probably not appreciated at all. So he’s also a good athlete. It’s more about getting him reps and just getting his feel at second.

“I think the combination of it all is very strong. And then to have (Miguel) Rojas to mix in there with some regularity we feel is very good.”

One of the best defensive infielders in the NL, Rojas has played all four infield positions and the veteran has already taken Vargas under his wing. The two have talked by phone since Rojas was acquired in a trade with the Marlins and they worked out a couple of times in Miami with Rojas offering instruction at shortstop under his theory that “if you can play shortstop you can play other positions.”

Vargas earns high marks from Rojas for his eagerness to learn.

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“(Vargas) reached out to me and asked about working on defense. That tells a lot to me about what he wants to be,” Rojas said. “He wants to be a good defender – not just a good player and happy to get an opportunity. He wants to be a good defender and he’s working hard at second base.”

Vargas said he has also been working with Dodgers coach Dino Ebel this winter as well as Placido Polanco, a special advisor in the Dodgers’ front office who won three Gold Gloves during his playing career – two at second base and one at third. He is the only player to have won Gold Gloves at multiple infield positions.

“They’ve helped me a lot and now I feel a lot more comfortable playing second,” Vargas said.

The Dodgers haven’t told him directly that he will play second base, Vargas said, “But I’m ready for it.”

“Things could change. Things can change by the time we get out of here and get to the regular season,” Vargas said. “I just want to get ready, focus on doing everything I can to be ready. Then when that opportunity presents itself, be ready for that.”

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