CF or C? Varsho gives D-backs 'unique' options

March 21st, 2022

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- A catcher who plays other positions is not uncommon.

A catcher who can also play at an average or above in center field? Not so much.

Add in plus speed and some power, and you've got yourself the D-backs' Daulton Varsho, who provides manager Torey Lovullo with some unique flexibility. 

"Very unique," Lovullo said. "Everybody knows that those are two primary, premium positions, and it's just up to us to figure out where we can plug him in and how we can maximize his total number of at-bats."

Last year, Varsho appeared in 41 games behind the plate, 30 in center and 12 each in left and right.

This spring, the D-backs are focused on having him play center and catcher, with the thinking being that if he needs to play on the corners at all, it will be an easier adjustment. 

Varsho made his big league debut during the shortened 2020 season and he took a huge step forward offensively in the second half of '21 -- hitting .290/.349/.530 after the All-Star break.

"He's still developing," Lovullo said. "He's still working."

Varsho, who homered in Sunday's 11-10 loss to the Royals at Surprise Stadium, will go through a different pregame routine depending on whether he's starting in center or behind the plate.

"The preparation's way different," Varsho said. "Going to play center, you're just going to go be an athlete out there and play out there, and work on your reads before the game. While catching, it's a little bit more diving into the homework a little bit, scouting all those hitters and kind of going over the report with the pitcher and knowing who's in the bullpen. You're always working on that trust [with the pitchers]."

Varsho's speed allowed him to steal 19 bases in 2018 in High-A and 21 in '19 for Double-A Jackson. Catchers don't usually have that kind of speed and if they do, it dissipates the more time they spend behind the plate.

So would it make sense to leave Varsho in the outfield and have his speed vs. having him behind the plate?

Another factor is that as soon as this year some of the D-backs' better outfield prospects, like Alek Thomas and Corbin Carroll, should be making their way to the big leagues.

There's a lot to consider and sorting out where the club wants Varsho primarily to play this year is a priority this spring.

Carson Kelly figures to get the bulk of the playing time at catcher and if that's the case, and Varsho plays nearly every day in center, then it becomes harder to see him being the backup behind the plate.

In that scenario, the D-backs will almost certainly carry another catcher with Jose Herrera, Grayson Greiner, Juan Graterol and Juan Centeno as the other candidates in camp. Herrera would seem to have a leg up given that he is on the 40-man roster.

Herrera is regarded as an outstanding defensive catcher. Last year, while splitting time between Double-A Amarillo and Triple-A Reno, his offense ticked up.

"Those are the things we have to figure out," Lovullo said. "Those are the discussions that we're having. We know that there's a decision to be made and two totally different paths. We don't have those answers yet."

Game recap

The D-backs did not play a sharp game defensively against the Royals on Sunday, committing a pair of errors and issuing four walks. Since defense has been a major emphasis this spring after last year's struggles, Lovullo was not pleased.

"I want to play crisp, clean baseball," Lovullo said. "And doesn't matter who's playing out there, my expectations are that we go out and execute at a very high level, and every player should be expected to do that. So you can see fundamentally we broke down. It's pitchers putting balls on the plate when they're supposed to, it's defenders making plays. Those are lessons that we're going to need to learn quickly."