It might sound strange, but the state of Wisconsin has become a bit of a hotbed in recent years in terms of producing high-level baseball talent. Dodgers top prospect Gavin Lux was the first in the wave to make it the bigs, creating buzz with a strong Major League debut
It might sound strange, but the state of Wisconsin has become a bit of a hotbed in recent years in terms of producing high-level baseball talent. Dodgers top prospect Gavin Lux was the first in the wave to make it the bigs, creating buzz with a strong Major League debut in 2019. Like Lux, Mariners top prospect Jarred Kelenic was a first-rounder out of high school who is loudly knocking on the big league door, while infielder Kevin Cron was optioned.
But Kelenic isn’t the second Badger State native to get the chance to show what he can do in the Major Leagues. That honor belongs to D-backs catching prospect Daulton Varsho, who was brought up to the big leagues from Arizona’s alternate site on Thursday.
Varsho, the club’s No. 3 prospect and No. 75 on the Top 100, was unheralded coming out of Marshfield High School, then going on to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which isn't exactly a college baseball powerhouse. The son of former big leaguer Gary Varsho and named after his father’s Phillies teammate, Darren Daulton, he was ranked No. 110 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 200 Draft prospects in 2017 and the D-backs liked his bat and athleticism enough to take him in the Competitive Balance B Round (No. 68 overall).
So far, he’s done nothing but repay their faith in him with consistent performance as he's climbed the organizational ladder. His bat, along with the ability he’s shown to not just catch, but play the outfield, is why he’s getting the call right now. The fact the D-backs catching tandem of Carson Kelly and Stephen Vogt have gone a combined 2-for-18 might be a contributing factor as well, but it remains to be seen just how much time Varsho gets, and where he gets it.
Here’s a closer look at the tools the 24-year-old Varsho brings with him to Arizona’s roster, with his grades on the 20-to-80 scouting scale in parentheses (20-30 is well below average, 40 is below average, 50 is average, 60 is above average and 70-80 is well above average):
Hit (55): Wherever Varsho has gone, he’s hit. He left Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a career .335 average and 1.000 OPS. He brings a .301/.372/.507 career line with him to the big leagues, and he hit very well in Summer Camp. 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.
Power (50): While he is more hit over pop, evaluators do think he’ll have average in-game power when all is said and done. He’s reached the seats more consistently as he’s advanced, with his 18 homers in the typically pitching-friendly Southern League in 2019 tying him for fifth. He led the circuit in total bases, slugging percentage and OPS.
Run (55): This is one of the ways Varsho stands apart from most catchers. Not only does he have above-average speed, he’s aggressive on the basepaths. He finished just two homers shy of a 20-20 season in 2019, swiping 21 bags in 26 attempts, and he’s 47-for-57 in stolen-base attempts in his career.
Arm (45): His weakest tool, Varsho has worked tirelessly on his catch-and-throw skills. He’s never going to have more than average arm strength, at best, though he has thrown out 30 percent of potential basestealers as a pro (only 20 percent in Double-A in 2019). It’s the lone negative reason leading to talk of Varsho moving from behind the plate permanently, though most feel he’ll throw well enough to stick there if needed.
Field (50): Varsho’s athleticism and agility are strengths here and he gets high marks for his blocking and receiving, though he was charged with 12 passed balls in 2019. He did handle a late assignment in center field at the end of last year and the D-backs have tried him out in all three outfield spots in intrasquad games and workouts, so don’t be shocked to see him moving around a bit in 2020.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly MLB Pipeline Podcast.