Nothing goes together in fantasy baseball quite like catchers and stolen bases. Wait no, that’s not right. Catchers are usually slow, lumbering power hitters who rarely contribute in fantasy. Only the most elite catchers are even worth owning, with many fantasy players opting to leave the catcher spot blank rather than start a .220 hitter.
However, there’s an intriguing catching prospect down in High-A Visalia, an Arizona affiliate, who could someday contribute to your fantasy team in a category you may never have thought possible: stolen bases.
Currently, Daulton Varsho is having one of the most elite, and underrated, seasons by a prospect. In 195 plate appearances through Thursday 5/31, Varsho is slashing .284/.379/.450 for the Rawhide. He boasts six home runs and 26 RBI, with a stellar 10.8% walk rate and a 136 wRC+. More importantly than all of that is the fact that he has 14(!) stolen bases. Over a 162-game season, that would translate to 52 stolen bases.
Obviously, Varsho is no lock to steal 50+ bases in the major leagues. Since 1950, only 11 catchers have have stolen more than 20 bases in a single season. The record is 36, by Royals catcher John Wathan in 1982. Even expecing Varsho to become a 30 stolen base threat in the big leagues is crazy, as opposing pitchers and catchers are much more elite defensively in the show than they are in the California League. Still, a catching prospect with a 60-grade scouting report is rare to say the least.
Varsho was taken in the second round of the 2017 MLB draft out of UW-Milwaukee. He began his pro career at short-season Hillsboro, hitting seven home runs and stealing seven bases in 50 games played. That gives him 13 home runs and 21 stolen bases through his first 95 professional games. He was ranked as Arizona’s No. 4 prospect preseason in our D-Backs Top 50, and is doing everything he can to challenge for that No. 1 spot.
Thanks Prospect Pipeline for this Varsho BP video:
At 21-years-old, Varsho still has plenty of developing to do. He likely won’t even sniff the major leagues until 2020, with a September 2019 call-up a possibility if he continues to dominate through the minors. The biggest question mark with him is if he can stick behind the plate. From MLB Pipeline:
Behind the plate, he blocks and receives well, but his throwing is an issue. The D-backs feel it’s more about his release and footwork and not a lack of arm strength, and he has made some strides in cleaning it up since turning pro.
The problem with good hitting catcher prospects is they often don’t develop into big league catchers. If Varsho is a good enough hitter to post league average numbers in say left field, well the Diamondbacks will likely just shift him there and watch him produce 20/15 type numbers. His speed certainly gets put to more use in the outfield, and he is considered athletic enough to even play center field if the D-Backs saw fit to move him. Varsho reminds me a lot of former Rockies catcher Ben Petrick, who is from Hillsboro and was actually on the staff for the Hillsboro Hops, Varsho’s first professional stop. Petrick slashed .322/.406/.495 for the Rockies in 71 games from 1999-2000, before succumbing to Parkinson’s Disease which robbed him of his ability to catch, and eventually ended his career in 2004. Before he retired however, Petrick was converted from catcher to center field for the 2003 season.
Varsho has the athleticism and plus hit tool to be what many hoped Petrick would become. That’s a prospect certainly worth keeping an eye on.
Featured image of Daulton Varsho – via BaseballCensus.com
Andy Patton covers the Milwaukee Brewers minor league system for Prospects1500. He is on his third fantasy baseball writing gig, also writing for Pitcher List and RotoBaller. He also covers the Detroit Tigers at FanSided's Motor City Bengals and dabbles with the gridiron, writing about the Seahawks for USA TODAY.