TDG 2023 PLAYERS TO AVOID: CATCHER
This is a companion piece to our 2023 Dynasty League Rankings. The opinions below are my own and do not reflect the TDG consensus.
Daulton Varsho, Toronto BlueJays (Age: 26, Previous Ranking: 8)
When I started this exercise to write about the catcher to avoid I was honestly stumped. This year’s group of catchers is the most fun list of players to consider in years. While it is still especially important in any two-catcher league to have dependable talent there, one-catcher leagues have become easier to punt that position in startup drafts. Also, trading for catchers in a one-catcher league has been a lot easier this past year. Some really good old reliable catchers have been surpassed in the market by a new wave of talent that has entered the league in the last couple of years. In addition, there is a significant number of catching prospects waiting to break in. All said, it was difficult for me. That being the case I chose someone I think is getting too much credit and is in a situation where things could go south quickly. I chose Daulton Varsho.
Daulton Varsho, out of the University of Wisconsin, was drafted in the second round of the 2017 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Daulton is the son of former major league player Gary Varsho. After being drafted, he spent only two and a half years in their minor league system. He broke into the majors in 2020 and played in 37 games in which he batted an underwhelming .188/.287/.366 with 3 home runs and 3 stolen bases in 115 plate appearances. Arizona sent him back to AAA Reno to start the 2021 season and things changed. He exploded at the plate. In 18 games and 87 plate appearances, Daulton hit .313/.368/.750 with 9 home runs. The Diamondbacks called him up and he finished the season with a regular job behind the plate and in the outfield.
2022 for Daulton was lightning in a bottle. He got an opportunity the whole season playing in 150 games out of 162. During 2022 he played 114 games at OF (all three outfield positions), 31 at Catcher, and 15 at DH. He played everywhere the Diamondbacks needed him and he delivered. For the season he hit .235/.302/.443 with 27 home runs and 16 stolen bases. Sixteen stolen bases for a catcher. In a roto league, he had so much more value given the scarcity of stolen bases at the position. Most catchers are stuck behind the plate. Varsho’s ability to get a significant playing time boost as an outfielder really pushes his value up. Being in Arizona was good for him as a fantasy asset.
This offseason he found himself in the middle of one of the biggest trades when the Toronto Blue Jays acquired him for Lourdes Gurriel and Gabriel Moreno. The trade was great for both teams in real life, but for fantasy, this trade works against Daulton in a few ways.
The first is the catching logjam in the Blue Jays organization. They already roster Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen behind the plate. I would bet they play the lion’s share this season and others going forward. On roster resource, Varsho is already listed as a starter in left field and I have an easy time seeing him losing eligibility at the catcher position. If that happens and he is only OF eligible, I could see him being ranked after the mid-20’s.
The second reason is that his walk and strikeout rates are both on the wrong side of league-average. At catcher, his hitting flaws are less obvious because catchers tend to be, as a group, significantly behind outfielders in production. His results in 2022 were top-shelf and also outperformed his expected stats. If he hits his floor as an outfielder only it makes him very replaceable. I can easily see a season where he underperforms his expected stats and we learn what that could be.
The last reason is his new organization. His new home park, Rogers Centre, is a worse place to hit than Chase Field, his old one. In addition, he goes from a team that had room to let him just play as they had no real expectations to compete. The lack of talent at the major league level for Arizona worked in his favor for opportunity to be an accumulator. His new team has a ton of expectations and might not have patience should he struggle to start 2023. In 2022 he got 592 plate appearances. I can see up to 20% less this season even if things are going ok.
If you have Daulton Varsho, especially in a one-catcher dynasty league, now is a good time to consider moving him to another owner if you can sell high on his value. As a catcher, he is a great value, but if he loses his eligibility at that position he loses all value. He stole 16 bases last year at catcher! I don’t see the Blue Jays keeping him there without an injury to one of their other two backstops. A final stat line of .225/.275./.400 with 17-20 home runs and half that number in steals in less than 500 plate appearances (and less than 20 games started) at catcher is a real possibility for his floor.