Daulton Varsho has always been able to hit since he started his pro career after getting drafted by the Diamondbacks in the Comp. B Round in 2017. Varsho has quickly paced his way up the system, reaching AA in just his 2nd full season after solid stops with Short-A Hillsboro in 2017 and High-A Visalia in 2018. After a hamate bone injury wiped out two months of his 2018 season, Varsho would participate in the Arizona Fall League. He did alright, but not spectacular there, which set up 2019 to be a potential big year in his development.
2019 would definitely serve as a big year in his development, as it’s resulted in a breakout performance at the plate and likely spelled the end of his days as a starting catcher prospect. The latter has nothing to do with him, it has to do with another major acquisition at the catcher position that has paid major dividends. In 105 games (441 PA) Varsho is hitting .295/.372/.512 with 25 doubles, 4 triples, 17 homers, 56 RBI, 81 runs scored, and 21/25 in stolen base attempts. He cut the strikeouts down from 20% to 14% while maintaining a 9% walk rate after making arguably the most difficult jump in the system from High-A to AA. Varsho’s batted ball profile remained mostly the same in regards to ground balls, pop-ups, and fly balls leaving the stadium, although it also came with line drives dropping 7% and turning into fly balls, which likely negatively affected his BABIP. That itself is a non-issue given Varsho’s strengths as a hitter.
That performance led to Nick Piecoro to list him as the Diamondbacks’ Minor League Player of the Year on Baseball America. This was Piecoro’s justification for the selection:
Varsho’s rise as a prospect combined with Carson Kelly’s emergence as a borderline All-Star level catcher creates a bit of a good problem moving forward. Both players are controllable for the foreseeable future, so the question becomes getting Varsho ABs without taking from Kelly’s playing time. Part of that solution involves moving Varsho to the outfield, an area where the team is hurting for depth and doesn’t have impact talent arriving until at least the 2021 season. Varsho is an above average runner with good athleticism, so it’s just a matter of him reading the ball out there and figuring out where to go. That is easier said than done, as most MLB outfielders have years of experience to fall back on.
It will be interesting to see if Varsho is a call-up candidate in September, given as he has nothing left to prove in the minors and the team is hurting for depth now in the outfield. He isn’t Rule 5 eligible until after the 2020 season, although he’ll likely establish himself as a regular by then anyway, so there is no rush to start his service time clock either.