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2020 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews #15: Daulton Varsho

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“I truly think I’m a catcher...” — Daulton Varsho

Varsho defends home plate.
Varsho defends home plate.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
  • rating: 5.53
  • age: 24
  • 2020 stats: 115 PA, .188/.287/.366 = .653 OPS, negative 0.1 bWAR, positive 0.2 fWAR
  • 2020 salary: League Minimum (Pre-Arb)
  • 2021 status: Projected on 26-man roster

Who is Daulton Varsho?

He energizes himself by being outdoors. A favorite activity would be lakeside with friends, eating cheese curds and drinking a beer. What are his guiding principles? A few quotes follow:

  • “When you are practicing, that’s when your approach kind of needs to translate to the game. When the game starts, you need to shut off your brain and just play.” — Daulton Varsho
  • When in the batter’s box, his focus is like, “Let’s see the pitch,” and “Just keep my rhythm.” — Daulton Varsho
  • “If you can bust your gut and give it all for 90 feet. I want to play with that guy.” — Daulton Varsho
  • “Run out to your position [between half-innings]...You’ve got so little time to show people that this is what I’m about.” — Daulton Varsho
  • “[The new school teaches] it’s ok to strike out. For me it’s not. ...Put the ball in play.” — Daulton Varsho
  • “Take every day as your last and try to figure out what you can do better every day to get you to where you want to be.” — Daulton Varsho
  • “Try to be myself. When I try not to be myself things go south.” — Daulton Varsho

What are his strengths?

Athletic. “Player development has talked about his athleticism and ability to adapt. His aptitude when given certain tasks — it’s just easy for him because he’s that athletic.” — Torey Lovullo

Hit Tool. “I think he understands what the at-bat is asking for. He knows the strike zone, he hits in counts and he can drive the ball to all fields. He’s a quality hitter who can impact the baseball.” — Torey Lovullo

“He punishes the ball to all fields with a short, compact swing from the left side that has allowed him to strike out in just 16.2 percent of his plate appearances while still being an aggressive hitter. His ability to recognize pitches also helps, and he’s not afraid to work counts and draw walks (8.7 percent). Seeing him hit .300 in the big leagues isn’t unreasonable.” — Jonathan Mayo, July 2020

“... should be a hitter capable of hitting 20-25 home runs over a full season. While it may seem light, it is important to remember that just eight catchers hit 20 or more home runs in 2019.” — Chris Clegg, November 2020

Go-to process to break out of hitting slumps. “When I’m struggling, I usually bunt for a hit. Every time it gets me back in the flow of things.” — Daulton Varsho

Aggressive Baserunner. “Not only does he have above-average speed, he’s aggressive on the basepaths.” — Jonathan Mayo

“Between 2018 and 2019, in 191 games, Varsho stole 40 bases in 48 attempts....For reference, between 2018 and 2019, J.T. Realmuto was the stolen base leader among catchers at 12. He did that over 270 games.” — Chris Clegg

His 28.3 feet per second sprint speed ranked 65th in the Majors and his speed is at the 86th percentile in the Majors (Source: Baseball Savant.) Varsho’s sprint speed is average for center fielders, but ranks first for catchers. For details see the following leaderboard.

Baseball Savant

Breakout in 2019. “Varsho was named the 2019 Minor League Player Of The Year for the Arizona Diamondbacks by Baseball America. The starting catcher for the Jackson Generals (AA) in the Southern League last season, he is now ranked by Baseball America as the Diamondbacks No. 1 prospect, and No. 56 in all of baseball.” — Milwaukee Athletics article, July 2020

No player in the [Diamondback] system this year [2019] has a better combination of in-season production, positional value and prospect standing—at least not in the upper minors—like Varsho, who had hit .343 with a 1.026 OPS in the second half.” — Nick Piecoro

Defense in center field. In 2020 Daulton Varsho earned 2 DRS in 112.1 innings in center field. Tim Locastro earned 1 DRS in 76 innings. Nevertheless, for entire season, the other center fielders lowered the team DRS to negative 1. Clearly, Varsho and Locastro have shown excellent defense.

AZ Snake Pit voted him Rookie of the Year for 2020. If you missed it, recommend reading Jim McLennan’s excellent article.

What are his weaknesses?

He recovered from two minor injuries. In 2018, he broke his hamate bone. In 2019 he suffered a grade 3 ankle sprain. Even minor injuries cost development time.

Arm strength. “The pre-draft reports on Varsho pointed to his below-average arm possibly forcing him to another position at some point in his career, but he’s made up for any deficiency in arm strength with a quick release and good footwork —Bill Mitchell, October 2018

“...his arm strength, which he admits is not of the caliber of some of his peers’. But Varsho has used his quick-twitch capabilities to overcome that deficiency. He maintains a pop time – the time it takes a catcher to go from receiving a pitch to delivering a throw to second – in the range of 1.9 seconds. For comparison, Alex Avila led the Diamondbacks this season with an average pop time of 1.98 seconds.” — Zach Buchanan, Nov 2018

Strikeouts in 2020. “The bad news was that [in 2020] Varsho posted a strikeout rate of 28.7 percent, which was 12 percent higher than his career 16.2 percent MILB strikeout rate.” — Chris Clegg, November 2020

His strikeout rate was worse than the 21.8% average in the Majors, albeit it was his first games in the Majors after skipping AAA. Better than average in the Majors were his walks (10.4% vs 8.3%) and hard hits (38.2% vs 34.9%). Data from Baseball Savant.

Which position should he play in 2021?

Skilled at two premium positions. “I thought he caught well and continued to improve throughout the year. He controlled his at-bats well, got on base, hit for power. It seemed to improve as the year went on, and to do that as a catcher in [the Southern League] says a lot. Obviously, we had him playing some center field and he played it well. So you’re talking about an offensive catcher and a center fielder that has defensive skills at two premium positions on the field.” Mike Bell, Diamondback VP of Player Development, October 2019

Depth at center field. Barring injuries, the Diamondbacks will likely have two or more center fielders in 2021 through 2023, as shown in the following chart. Daulton Varsho would not likely be significantly better than any of the players shown.

Data from Baseball Reference Contract Page

Platoon with Carson Kelly. Daulton Varsho could be the second catcher. If needed, he could play center field when Carson Kelly plays catcher. Alternatively, he could be a pinch hitter, and enter the game at either center field or catcher. He gives Torey Lovullo more game-day options.

Potential to be an All-Star catcher. Daulton Varsho has potential to do special things as a catcher. He could be the rare catcher with balanced offense and defense. He would certainly have the fastest sprint speed of all catchers in the Majors, and likely would lead them in stolen bases. Likely he would be great at game calling because his baseball IQ is excellent.

Daulton Varsho should play catcher. Although we’ve covered several good reasons, let’s look at what he said.

“I truly think I’m a catcher and I think I’m able to be successful at that position. J.R. all of the front office believe I can stay there, and I feel like that’s a very good positive thing for me. I’m just going to keep working and trying to get my way up to the big leagues.” — Daulton Varsho, 2018