Diamondbacks catcher/outfielder Daulton Varsho has impressed so much in the outfield this season that his days behind the plate could be drawing to a close, writes Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. Varsho tells Piecoro that he’s even surprised himself with how well he’s taken to the outfield.
A former top-100 prospect, the 26-year-old former top prospect has drawn immaculate grades for his outfield defense in 2022, tallying 14 Defensive Runs Saved and, according to Statcast, 13 Outs Above Average and 12 Runs Above Average. Those are cumulative totals, so it’s worth noting that Varsho has also spent 175 innings behind the plate this year; had he been a full-time outfielder, those defensive marks would’ve likely been even more eye-catching.
Varsho, who says it’s a personal goal of his to win a Gold Glove, added that he’s not content with his current level of outfield play, citing a few near-catches he missed (on what would’ve been highlight-reel efforts). Varsho labeled himself a perfectionist and spoke of small, incremental gains he could still make in his defensive game — “…[I]f I can add an extra inch by not having to look at the wall and understanding what I can do to get better…” — as part of his hopeful evolution.
Of course, Varsho is far more than just a strong glove in the outfield. He’s built on a solid showing at the plate last summer and turned in a .243/.311/.457 batting line this season, swatting 23 home runs, 20 doubles and three triples while chipping in eight stolen bases (albeit in 14 attempts). It’s a solid, well-round skill set that could leave him as a fixture in center or right field, depending on how the remainder of the Diamondbacks’ young outfield pans out.
Corbin Carroll, regarded as one of the sport’s top prospects — if not the top prospect — prior to his promotion earlier this month, gives Arizona a potential high-impact talent to pair with Varsho in the long term. He’s followed up a combined .307/.425/.611 batting line in the minors this year with a .281/.324/.469 showing through his first eight big league games and now has 24 home runs and 31 steals between the minors and big leagues combined.
Add in the likes of Alek Thomas, himself a top-100 prospect prior to this season’s debut, and 25-year-old Jake McCarthy, who has surpassed all expectations with a strong debut campaign of his own, and the outfield group in Phoenix looks particularly promising. The 22-year-old Thomas has cooled after a solid start and is batting .249/.295/.373 on the season but has turned in plus defensive marks in center. McCarthy, meanwhile, is batting .288/.348/.455 with seven homers, 14 doubles, two triples and a 15-for-16 showing in stolen bases.
It’s a talented, albeit entirely left-handed, group of outfielders around which to build. That there are four players for three spots might make it tempting to continue deploying Varsho behind the dish at times, but his elite play in the outfield would be lost in that scenario. Manager Torey Lovullo told Piecoro that there are no plans for Varsho to start behind the plate for the remainder of the season, further pointing to a long-term move away from the position.
It’s a bit early to label the quartet of lefty-hitting outfielders a true “surplus.” Thomas’ offense has been below average, and it’s fair to wonder whether McCarthy can sustain production that’s been bolstered by a .347 average on balls in play — particularly when he’s making hard contact at a below-average clip. Statcast pegs his “expected” batting average and slugging percentage at .259 and .367 — both well shy of his current marks. Carroll is a top-five prospect in baseball, but he also just turned 22 in late August, so it’s not a given that he’ll immediately break out into stardom.
Still, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic wonders about the possibility of the Diamondbacks utilizing this group of outfielders to bolster the rotation over the winter. There are plenty of teams with outfield needs who’d love to acquire a controllable long-term player to step right onto the 2023 roster. Varsho is controlled through 2026, McCarthy through 2027 and both Thomas and Carroll through at least 2028. Speculating a bit, the Marlins are known to still be looking for their center fielder of the future and have plenty of pitching to dangle in talks with the D-backs. Arizona and Miami previously lined up on a Zac Gallen-for-Jazz Chisholm swap that has benefited both clubs, though the Marlins’ front office has turned over a good bit since that time.
Trading from that quartet of outfielders would thin out the Diamondbacks’ outfield depth, quite likely in a significant way, but they do have some other options on the 40-man roster, including the right-handed-hitting Stone Garrett, who’s out to a blistering MLB debut himself after a nice showing in Triple-A. The free-agent market would also present several affordable, short-term options to plug into the outfield mix, and finding a useful complementary outfielder on the open market is quite a bit easier than finding the type of potentially impact arm that a trade of someone like Thomas could bring.
However general manager Mike Hazen and his staff choose to proceed this winter, the play of the team’s young outfielders will give them plenty of options. And with a lot clicking elsewhere on the roster — Arizona is 26-19 since the All-Star break, a .578 winning percentage — the D-backs could be a shrewd offseason move or two away from reasserting themselves in the National League West more quickly than most would anticipate.