MLB Pipeline is releasing their list of top prospects, going by each position before unveiling organization and Top 100 rankings. On Thursday, they’ve released their Top 10 prospects at the catcher position and a Diamondbacks prospect ended up making the list. Checking in at the #9 spot on their list is Daulton Varsho. The eight players that finished ahead of him are Adley Ruschmann (BAL), Joey Bart (SFG), Sean Murphy (OAK), Luis Campusano (SDP), Francisco Alvarez (NYM), Shea Langeliers (ATL), Keibert Ruiz (LAD), and Sam Huff (TEX).
Daulton Varsho had a lot to prove in the 2019 season. After getting drafted 68th overall in 2017, Varsho had a sizzling debut with Short A Hillsboro and helped them make a playoff run that year. Lauded for his above-average to plus hit tool, strike zone discipline, and athleticism, the young backstop was on the fast track to the majors. Varsho had a solid 2018 season with High A Visalia, but his offensive production was slightly down across the board and he missed 2 months with a hamate bone injury. The Diamondbacks would send him to the Arizona Fall League, where he showed excellent plate discipline but didn’t make a lot of forceful contact. The combination of injuries, a dropoff in production at a higher level, and the question of long term defensive home certainly caused Varsho’s prospect stock to take a hit entering 2019.
Fortunately, things took a turn for the better as Varsho was not only healthy but also put up excellent numbers for AA Jackson. While cutting his strikeout rate down from 21% to 14%, Varsho saw an uptick in power numbers, walks, and average despite a lower balls in play average. All in all he posted a .301/.378/.520 slash in the pitcher-friendly Southern League, which was good for a 159 wRC+ while also leading the league in SLG%, OPS, and runs scored. With such an excellent season at the plate, Nick Piecoro listed him as the organization’s Minor League Player of the Year for Baseball America. Varsho is also likely to be a consensus Top 3 prospect in the organization, capturing the top spot for BA while taking the second spot on Fangraphs and my own personal rankings.
Varsho is likely to get an extended look this Spring to see how he handles playing catcher, the outfield, and hit against major league pitching. He’ll likely start the season playing with AAA Reno, although I expect him to make his debut with the team sometime before the All-Star Break. The expectation for Varsho is he’ll develop into an everyday player somewhere whether it’s at catcher, in the outfield, or a super utility player. I wouldn’t say his future at catcher is completely blocked, as Carson Kelly will need to hit better than .203/.303/.405 (79 wRC+) against right-handed pitchers to prevent Varsho from stealing starts behind the plate. His build and swing remind me of former Dbacks catcher Miguel Montero, although Varsho certainly is the better runner and athlete between the two.