Rays 2016 Top 50 Prospects: Number 23, Cameron Varga
Rays Top 50 Prospects includes a tremendous number of high-quality prospects. We at RCG are bringing you an in-depth look at those we consider to be the Top 50.
While gathering as much information as possible from various sources, we’re going to put it all together for your enjoyment and raise the bar on what you expect from a prospect knowledgable site. Stay tuned, check-in often, and please let us know how we’re doing.
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Being such a lengthy process, some encouragement will go a very long way. We hope you’ll enjoy reading this series as much as we enjoy putting it together. If anything, all of us will know that much more about the quality of the Rays system.
The rankings will be based on all aspects of each prospect, but will focus first on how likely the player is to make an impact in MLB, and ceiling next. Mike Mahtook and Enny Romero have been graduated to the majors and will not be included in these rankings.
Once completed, the Top 50 will be updated mid-season with an explanation to why they’re moving up or down, and the entire process will be repeated each season.
The next player to be examined in detail is …
#23: Cameron Varga, RHP, 21 years old
- Throws: Right Ht/Wt: 6’3″ 205 lbs
- Drafted: by the Rays in the 2nd round of the 2014 draft
- Signed: for $1.1m (200K over slot)
- 2015 Affiliate: Hudson Valley, SS
- Anticipated MLB Arrival: 2019+
Varga’s Fielding Stats
Varga’s 2015 Splits
- Hometown is Loveland Ohio but grew up in Bradenton Florida
- Hit 93-95 MPH at PG National
- 2014 Perfect Game 1st Team All-American
- 2014 Gatorade Ohio Baseball Player of the Year
- Used to play SS and close games
- Developed his pitching at IMG academy
- Was ranked 47th by MLB.com pre-Draft
- Was committed to North Carolina before signing
- Has suffered through Bicep Tendinitis in the past
- On the Rays Varga stated this summer: “Everything is going well,” “The Rays are big into pitching and really take their time with their prospects. I’m loving it so far.”
- Finished 2015 ranked among HV pitchers: 7th in Ks, 5th in IP, and 7th in BB/9
- On how he great to love baseball, he stated:
"“Growing up, my dad played professional basketball so I was always around sports. I grew up playing basketball and baseball. By the time I was 10, I told my dad I wanted to focus completely on baseball and put my focus into that.”"
On his “aha” moment:
"“I think I only lasted 1 2/3 innings and the hitters were hitting everything I threw,”“The appearance showed me I had to learn how to become a pitcher and not just a thrower. I was more of a thrower in high school and relied on my fastball and curveball.”"
Recently got engaged and married:
Best Tools & Abilities
- Fastball (90-95 MPH)
- Developing Change Up
- Advanced Curveball
- Grades from Fangraphs: Fastball 50/60, Curveball 50/55, Changeup 40/50, Command 40/50, Future Value 40
We’ll start off with the encouraging trends with reference to Varga. He cut his walk rate by a good margin year-over-year, from 8.2% to 4.5%, and increased his K rate from 12.9% to 16.1%. What suffered simultaneously was the batter’s ability to get hits, which increased to over 1 per inning (66 hits in 57 IP). That left Varga with a 1.335 whip, something he could significantly improve upon with his stuff.
Here’s the deal, Varga is already good enough at this point to be assured an opportunity in the pen. With his fastball, one that jumps on hitters and has life to it, and his advanced curveball, he can already provide 2 plus offerings that can make his effective in that role. What’s going to determine whether he sticks on the mound or not is how well he develops secondary offerings, most notably his changeup.
It’s important to note that in 2015, his ERA dropped to 2.57 and whip to 1.048 for the last 21 innings of the season. Meanwhile, his K rate jumped to 8.1 All of those are encouraging signs that he was applying what he’d learned over the season and was getting stronger as the season ended.
The other thing Varga will have to adjust to is longevity and a full season, something he should get a chance to do in 2016. With 57 innings being the most he’s thrown as a pro, he’ll need to put the work in to strengthen his core and legs so that he can make it through a gruelling season. That shouldn’t be an issue, but there are sometimes growing pains in this area as pitchers wear down.
Varga has the stuff and makeup to jump up this list by a good margin in 2016. His ability to pitch will power and control it semi-effectively so far has intriguing potential and he could lead the next wave of impressive pitchers to come up through the Rays system.
As a pitcher works through new pitches and puts in the work to develop his stuff, there are periods where he may be more hittable than expected. We’re chalking up 2015 to this and will hope that he can cut down how well batter hit off him in 2016. There’s reason to be careful here because being hittable in the lower parts of the minors can often lead to issue at the upper levels of the minors. That’s why he’s still ranked in the low 20s at this point. As Varga himself stated:
"“The Rays really work with their homegrown prospects. They aren’t real active in getting that big free-agent signing,” he said. “They really want guys to develop so that when they get their chance, they blow up and become a big deal.”"
With his first full-season ball ahead of him, Varga should shine in 2016. If his change up develops as it should, the floor is one of a #4 starter and the ceiling is much higher. If his change up doesn’t shine and he doesn’t add the necessary offside pitch to replace it, he may be relegated to relieving albeit likely at the back of the pen in a prominent role.
The Rays can look forward to seeing what steps forward Varga takes next season and are likely anticipating a jump in all areas. Control may always be an issue he needs to work on, but it’s not like he’s wild and the projection is that he’ll be more than capable of controlling his pitches effectively.
Next: Tampa Bay Rays Top 50 Prospects: #10 Ryan Brett
As with any young pitcher it’s hard to predict how well he’ll adjust to full season ball and whether or not he’ll have the stamina to not wear down near the end. However, with Varga’s build and strength, it doesn’t seem like there should be an issue on that front. So long as he remains healthy and gets to put in the work, Varga should jump to well-within the top 12-15 next season if he does as well as anticipated. We wish him all of the best and hopes 2016 is an outstanding season.