The Diamondbacks have begun to experiment moving Daulton Varsho out from behind home plate, per Nick Pecoro of the Arizona Republic. Varsho is the Diamondbacks #3 ranked prospect per Baseball America, #5 per MLB.com, while Fangraphs has him as the #77 overall prospect in their latest rankings.
Varsho’s bat has long been his calling card. Baseball America’s Best Hitter For Average in the Diamondbacks system following the 2018 season, he made the jump to Double-A this year and continued producing a rare combination of power and speed. His 20 stolen bases make him the first catcher in the upper reaches of the minors to hit that threshold since 2006. His overall numbers suggest he’ll reach Triple-A by next year at the latest (.301/.377/.527 with 25 doubles and 17 home runs).
The party line remains that Varsho can and will catch at the major-league level, but a move out from behind the plate has long been rumored for the Wisconsin native. Perhaps most telling is the fact that the Diamondbacks are now putting that plan into action: he started two games in centerfield this week, his first looks at game action from behind the mound. The Dbacks believe Varsho’s athleticism will allow for a smooth transition to the outfield.
Carson Kelly’s emergence as the full-time backstop in Phoenix has as much to do with this move as anything. Arizona is presumably preparing for a future in which Kelly and Varsho are in the same batting lineup. Kelly, 25, has shined in his first season as a regular starter, slashing .254/.349/.531 with 18 home runs. Defensively, he’s not the quickest off the mat, but he grades as an excellent pitch framer and he’s long been held in high regard as a game-caller.
The Diamondbacks have a solid collection of potential future centerfielders, but the likes of Alek Thomas, Kristian Robinson, and Corbin Carrol are years away from the major leagues. Ketel Marte started 78 games in centerfield, but he’s also a capable second baseman. As a franchise, take a look at the moves they’ve made in free agency and trades over the last year, and they clearly value versatility. Recent acquisitions with the utility gene include Wilmer Flores, Eduardo Escobar, Andy Young, and Josh Rojas. Varsho joining this group of highly flexible position players fits the organizational scheme, and for what it’s worth, it should make him a more marketable trade asset.