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Status: Last year before arbitration, $721,700
Daulton Varsho was born into baseball. The son of former major league outfielder Gary Varsho, Daulton was named after his father’s teammate and close friend Darren Daulton. Varsho’s two older sisters, a family of athletes, were both collegiate athletes, and Daulton learned dedication and competitiveness from an early age.
Varsho attended the University of Wisconsin and played catcher. Varsho smashed the ball while in college, hitting .370 and over 1,000 OPS in his last two seasons. He was picked by the Diamondbacks in the second round, 68th pick overall in the 2017 draft.
In his first three seasons with the Minors, he hit at all levels, reaching Double-A through 2019 and batting .301 with .899 OPS at that level. He began 2020 at the team’s alternate location and made his major league debut on July 30, 2020. Varsho was up and down the plate fighting behind on defense. He was also at the club in early 2021 but was downgraded back to AAA after the slump. When he came back, he batted .295 with an OPS of .886 from July 20 through the end of the season. He also began his move to the outfield.
When the 2022 season opened, Varsho secured a spot in the opening-day lineup as a starting midfielder at the age of 25. From the beginning of the year it was clear that he would do well in the outfield. But like many of his teammates, he struggled for the plate in the first month, hitting just a .197 by April 28. He hit four home runs, including a game in which he attempted a solo shot late in the 9th on April 22 against the Mets.
Varsho got really hot in his next 22 games, hitting .322/.379/.575, .954 OPS with 10 doubles, four homers and 12 RBI. Another big highlight game came on May 21 when he hit a game tie between RBI single and the Cubs in the 8th inning and then a Go Ahead Two RBI double in the top of the 10th in a D-back -Victory shattered.
With Carson Kelly on the injury list, Varsho switched from outfield back to catching, sharing duties with Jose Herrera and also playing DH when off the plate. Perhaps related to the challenges of catching, Varsho went into a prolonged slump. From May 26 through the All-Star Break on July 17, he hit just .196 with four home runs. However, he kept his hits count and had 24 runs in those 42 games.
When Kelly came back from the injury list, Varsho switched back to outfield, switching to right field most of the time to allow rookie Alek Thomas to play in midfield. From the All-Star break, Varsho continued to bat for power, hitting 15 second-half homers, sharing with former D-back Paul Goldschmidt for 8th place in the national league.
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Varsho hit career highs in homers, RBI, and WAR. His OPS+ of 109 is about 9% above the league average. While it’s been a successful season overall at the Plate, there are a few areas that still need improvement to complete his development. He had very poor platoon splits, struggled against left-hand nods, and hit neither average nor strong. Only one of his 27 homers came against lefties, and his .250 OBP was borderline unplayable.
The other point that stood out was Varsho’s extreme pull percentage. His 54.5% pull rate was the highest of any qualified MLB batter. While pushing for power, Varsho abandoned any semblance of an opposing field approach as his opposing field percentage dropped from 26% to 16%.
One point here, though, is that Varsho could be a big beneficiary of the abolition of infield rotations in 2023. When teams were moved or strategically aligned against Varsho, he had a wOBA of 0.305 (weighted by base average). When teams were in standard infield alignment, that number increased to .347 wOBA. (MLB average wOBA was .310 in 2022)
No part of Varsho’s game shone more than his outfield work. Simply put, he developed into an elite defensive outfielder in both midfield and right field. In an exclusive issue in early September, Varsho shared with us how he became such a good outfielder, who he worked with and what mechanics he was focusing on. Whether playing center or right, Varsho delivered highlight reel catch after reel. Varsho used his speed, athleticism, and hard work to lead all major league outfielders in Statcast Runs Prevented (+14) and Outs Above Average. (+16)
Varsho was a finalist on two Gold Glove positions, right field and utility. Despite not taking home the hardware in either category, he firmly established himself as one of the game’s best outfield defenders. Remarkably, his time as a catcher seems to be over, at least for the Diamondbacks. Aside from the occasional limp start or strategic late-game substitutions, the team clearly signaled their intentions to no longer see him as a full-time or even back-up catch contender.
Heart and Hustle Award
Varsho was the Diamondbacks recipient of the Heart and Hustle Award. Voted by former players, the award honors the player who has shown a passion for the game of baseball and best embodies the values, spirit and traditions of the game. The D-Backs under manager Torey Lovullo have many players who could win this award. That is characteristic of this team. Still, it’s hard to imagine a player who earned more than Varsho last year.
Varsho has established himself as the go-to starting player for the Diamondbacks. At the start of his season at the age of 26, he achieved Super 2 status, making him eligible for arbitration. Inside the Diamondbacks estimates that he will make about $2.8 million in 2023.
With a spate of left-handers beating outfielders, rumors are rife that one of them could be transferred during this offseason. While the team has signaled that Corbin Carroll is untouchable, Varsho doesn’t seem to fit into that category. Earlier this week, we featured the Diamondbacks outfielder trade stats. Varsho has the second highest trade value among Diamondbacks outfielders, but that can make a trade difficult. It would be considered a blockbuster if moved and the price tag is certainly high. Most pundits seem to think that if an outfielder is traded, it will be one of Alek Thomas or Jake McCarthy.
Should Varsho stay with the team, improvements in his ability to hit left-handers and use the entire field could propel him to become the team’s all-star representative in 2023. At the same time, he is quietly developing into a clubhouse leader. With another successful year under his belt, it’s not hard to see his personality and leadership skills blossoming to the fullest.