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2020 Rookie of the Year: Daulton Varsho

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Albeit by the closest vote in SnakePit awards history

Los Angeles Dodgers v Arizona Diamondbacks Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

When they say “every vote counts”, they usually don’t mean it. But this might be the exception to that rule. For the decision here really could hardly have been closer if the votes had been handed out, specifically to that end. Just ONE VOTE separated the top four candidates. But in the end, Daulton Varsho just edged it by that margin, with a triple tie for second place immediately behind him, between the Smith boys, Pavin and Riley, along with “No award”. I’m sure the one person who voted for Keury Mella - and as he ‘fessed up in the comments, I’ve no problem revealing it was AzDbackfanInDc - will be interested to know that their outlier could instead have provoked a run-off.

Anyway, enough on that! Let’s move on to Varsho’s season.

When MLB Pipeline ranked the D-backs’ prospects in August, Varsho was #3, behind Kristian Robinson and Alek Thomas. But he stood out among Arizona’s leading prospects by virtue of being considerably more advanced than most - of the top six as listed, he was the only one more than twenty years old. He was ranked #82 overall, on the back of a very successful 2019 campaign, where he hit .301 with 18 home-runs for Double-A Jackson. While he played mostly catcher there, he was not your prototypical player at the position. Fleet of foot, he stole 21 bases while being caught only five times, and also started in center field, making for a rare combination of skills.

He didn’t start 2020 on Arizona’s roster, being assigned to the alternate training site. But with the expanded rosters in play at the beginning of the season, it didn’t take long for him to be called up. On July 30, he received the call, taking the spot of fellow prospect, struggling slugger Kevin Cron. Varsho made his debut the same day, coming off the bench and drawing a walk in the ninth inning against the Dodgers. However, there was a shortage of playing time: in the entire month of August, Daulton only received eight starts, and played consecutive complete games just once. Coming off the bench in the majors is hard for veterans, never mind a player who had not previously appeared above Double-A.

Varsho was careful not to complain about the situation, saying, “Being able to come off the bench has kind of been fun just because of the fact that I have this one at bat, and it’s very meaningful, and I have to make the most out of it.” But the resulting struggles were, perhaps inevitable. Through the end of August, he went 4-for-25 (.160), with an OPS of .516, and a couple of days later, told Arizona Sports Daulton felt he was “just trying to overdo it and putting too much pressure on myself.” But the team kept faith with the young player, and moves at the trade deadline - in particular, the trade of starting CF Starling Marte - opened an opportunity for more regular playing time.

September was completely different: Varsho started 21 of 25 games played by the D-backs, only appearing once as a substitute. And after notching his first multi-hit game on Sep 4, something seemed to click for Daulton. He delivered his first home-run the following day, with two more of them following later in the month. Over his final 19 games, he had fifteen hits, the majority of them for extra-bases. This gave Varsho a line of .234/.338/.484 over that time, for an OPS of .822, giving a nice, positive outcome to take into the winter. That’s fine, especially considering the weirdness and difficult circumstances of this season, and he impressed some of his team-mates. Fellow catcher Stephen Vogt said of Darsho:

“He is someone that I know is gonna be an every-day big leaguer and he can do it at multiple positions and that’s gonna provide him a long career with versatility... This is a kid that is well wise beyond his years. I’m blown away by his baseball IQ and his self-evaluation skills. He knows what his strengths are, he knows where he needs to get better and he’s working towards those.”

The team’s director of player development, Josh Barfield, echoed that sentiment: “He just has that work ethic where, ‘I’m gonna be a big leaguer. I’m gonna do whatever it takes to be the best player on the field.’ There’s no cockiness to it. He’s confident. He knows he can play but he’s always still trying to learn.” It will be interesting to see where Varsho fits into the team’s plans for 2021. There’s no obvious CF on the roster, but Ketel Marte may end up seeing playing time there. However, Varsho’s left-handed bat offers an alternative. But I’ll leave further discussion of those possibilities to Makakilo, who’ll be talking some more about Varsho in his player review on Tuesday...

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