D-backs’ Daulton Varsho looks to start 2021 same way he left off last season

Feb 28, 2021, 11:05 AM
Daulton Varsho #12 of the Arizona Diamondbacks bats against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the nint...
Daulton Varsho #12 of the Arizona Diamondbacks bats against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the ninth inning of the MLB game at Chase Field on August 01, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Dodgers defeated the Diamondbacks 11-2. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Arizona Diamondbacks’ Daulton Varsho made quite the splash when he hit the first home run of his big league career last season.

It may have taken the left-handed hitter until his 20th game in a D-backs uniform to do it, but when he did, he launched one over the right field porch in San Francisco and into McCovey Cove.

However, Varsho struggled in his first 26 MLB games. In 62 at-bats, the 24-year-old slashed .145/.243/.306 on nine hits, two of which were home runs, two were doubles and one was a triple. He also had five RBIs and struck out 21 times.

“It was a huge adjustment [making the jump to MLB],” he told Arizona Sports’ Bickley & Marotta on Thursday. “But I can’t thank the Diamondbacks enough for giving me the opportunity to experience it and being able to go into this offseason finding out some adjustments I need to make for this next year so that I can help the team win.

“Whether if that’s behind the dish or in the outfield, knowing I can play both spots at elite levels and be able to control the pitching staff — I think that’s huge for me to show them this spring to be able to make that decision.”

But then something clicked for Varsho when Arizona started a three-game series against the Anaheim Angels.

In his final 11 games (39 at-bats) of the 2020 season, the catcher/center fielder had one home run, three doubles and one triple to go along with four RBIs and a .256/.356/.462 slash line.

“I think I kind of started having fun again,” he said. “The really big moment for me was when we were in Anaheim and I ate a big side of grass and Kole (Calhoun) was laughing in right field and I was laughing in center, so that kind of calmed down the nerves a little bit.”

The looming question surrounding the young D-backs prospect coming into spring training ahead of the 2021 season is which position he will be utilized in. After all, it’s not every day that a player has the ability to play both catcher and center field at the Major League level.

And while Varsho prefers putting the gear on and calling pitches, he’s more than confident in his ability to platoon the outfield for manager Torey Lovullo.

“If it’s behind the plate and controlling the pitching staff, I think that’s where I fit best,” he explained. “But if they want me to play center field, I know I can play at an elite level — maybe even possibly at a Gold Glove level. Wherever they really want me, I’ll be ready for.

“I trained this whole offseason to play both positions at an elite level. So it’s up to them to make that decision and I’ll be ready for whatever they want me to do.”

In fact, the last time a big leaguer played 20 games behind the plate and in center field was by Hall of Famer Craig Biggio.

“You really don’t see a center field-catcher combo mix… That’s kind of a goal for me this year and just being in a category again with that Hall of Famer,” Varsho said. “He is a special human. … Hopefully I can follow in his footsteps in his career and have as much success as he did.”

An overall theme surrounding the 2021 Diamondbacks early on in spring training is to move on and not dwell on last season’s struggles. And after watching the World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers and fellow NL West division rival San Diego Padres load up their pitching staffs in the offseason, this year’s D-backs squad is yearning to prove the doubters wrong.

“Turn to the next page — last year was last year,” Varsho said. “We can say all that we want with the COVID protocols and that we underperformed but that was all last year.

“This team this year we kind of came in with a chip on our shoulder knowing that the Dodgers and Padres kind of loaded up, but I think we’re ready to show some people what we can do as a team. … I think that we can make some noise here this year and prove some people wrong.”

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