Daulton Varsho’s highly anticipated major league debut crept closer as the 2020 season progressed, but it still came as a shock when he received the news.
Following a scrimmage at the Diamondbacks’ alternate training site at Salt River Fields, manager Chris Cron informed the 24-year-old he’s headed to the big leagues. But in the midst of a global pandemic, a promotion to the baseball’s highest level wasn’t on his mind at the moment.
“I actually thought it was going to be a new thing about protocols and mask wearing, but he told me I was getting called up,” he said. “It was a pretty cool opportunity because I didn’t see it coming.”
Since the versatile catching prospect was picked No. 68 overall out of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2017, Varsho has ascended through four minor league levels in three seasons and thrusted into the spotlight.
The cancellation of Minor League Baseball has halted the development of hundreds of prospects. Varsho was reportedly set to begin the 2020 campaign in Double-A Jackson or Triple-A Reno, but that plan has changed. He has an opportunity to instead develop in the majors.
“This has been a call up that I know a lot of us have been looking forward to, but it’s extremely well deserved for Daulton,” manager Torey Lovullo said. “He’s performed and been one of our top performers in the system. These decisions usually make themselves, and in Daulton’s case he has certainly earned his moment.”
Varsho has quickly acclimated to his new environment in Arizona. He made his first MLB start in the D-backs’ 8-2 loss to the Houston Astros on Tuesday, going 0-for-4 with one strikeout.
His unique defensive versatility was on display. Varsho started the game in left field and moved to catcher in the eighth inning. He made a nice jump on the ball in left and snagged a line drive from Abraham Toro in the sixth inning.
Varsho offers plenty of defensive flexibility, but Lovullo hopes his addition to the lineup jolts Arizona’s lifeless offense.
In 108 games with Double-A Jackson last season, Varsho hit .301 with 18 homers and 58 RBIs at a .899 OPS. He also stole 21 bases, the most by a catcher in Double-A or Triple-A since 2006.
“I mean it’s no mystery that offensively things haven’t been clicking,” Lovullo said. “We just thought it would give us extra coverage, or a bat off the bench to add a little punch. It might help me maneuver through a lineup in our own personal end a little bit better.”
At the plate, Varsho has a quick left-handed swing that makes hard contact to all fields. He connected on a sharp line out to left fielder Kyle Tucker in the fifth inning. Consistent at-bats may be hard to come by with catchers Carson Kelly and Stephen Vogt along with a wide selection of outfielders.
As Varsho adjusts to nuances of the big leagues, he may be forced to settle for occasional pinch-hit opportunities and defensive substitutions throughout the year.
“I think it’s a different mental approach,” he said. “When you take it to an at-bat, there’s different things you have to prepare for. … It’s a different mindset, and it’ll be some little tweaks here and there.”
For such a young player, Lovullo credited Varsho’s maturity at the plate. He has a patient approach and often waits for a suitable pitch in the zone before making hard contact.
“I think he understands what the at-bat is asking for,” Lovullo said. “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.”
The son of former outfielder Gary Varsho, Daulton was destined for the game growing up in Marshfield, Wisconsin. Gary Varsho played for the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies over an eight-year career and shared several stories to his son along the way.
“I’ve always talked to him about the experiences he’s learned from other guys,” he said. “Being under Jim Leyland for so many years… the stories he told were really incredible and they helped.”
Daulton has found another mentor with the Diamondbacks in veteran outfielder Jon Jay.
Jay, 35, singed a minor league free agent deal with Arizona this offseason and is entering his 11th professional season. He helped the St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series in 2011.
“He’s gonna take me under his wing and show me some of the things he does,” Vasho said. “Hopefully I can figure out a routine that he can help guide me with.”
It won’t take long for Varsho to collect his first MLB hit. And it may take sooner than expected for him to become an everyday player in a D-backs’ uniform.
Varsho has the ability to perform under high expectations, but he is focused on helping the big-league club any way possible.
“They just said for me to be ready,” he said. “Be ready to catch, be ready to play outfield and just be yourself. I just have to be me and things will fall into place.”