It may be a new fantasy baseball season, but the discussion of taking catchers early is a live one. The old-school fantasy players believe in waiting on catchers in drafts, which sure works, but taking a catcher early is still a solid argument. We have seen in recent years that the success of some of the elite catchers can make a fantasy team flourish. Their stability to the lineup is a game-changer at an always-changing fantasy position. 

If you want an elite catcher, you will have to use an early draft pick on your catcher compared to taking an SP2 or another big bat. That is the predicament, but it can make a ton of sense when digging in. The difference between the elite catchers and the rest drops off quickly. The difference in other position players can be a much shorter gap. 

Also, the elite catchers are elite since they play a lot and accumulate a lot of at-bats. At the same time, the at-bats from one of your later catching options and the other offensive player you may take at that exact point in the draft will likely be quite different. Drafting an early catcher is a draft strategy, and that means the rest of your draft adapts and builds around the early catcher pick. With the right plan, this strategy is quite effective. For more on the early catcher, talk; listen in to the 2021 fantasy baseball catcher review edition of Benched with Bubba

Sure we have concluded that J.T. Realmuto and Salvador Perez appear to be worth the early selection, but we have a few new names entering the fold this season. The Dodgers Will Smith is moving up draft boards for a good reason, but the player we are talking about in this article is Daulton Varsho.

Why Varsho?

This is the argument for many. This is the reason I am writing this article. What makes Varsho so unique that he is worth drafting early in a draft? As of 12/27, his NFBC DC ADP is 104. That is a late 6th or early 7th round pick—pretty wild stuff for a player that has not proven himself for an entire big-league season.

Varsho played in 95 games for the DBacks last season, racking up 315 plate appearances. Over those 95 games, he hit 11 home runs while stealing six bases and hitting .246. In 37 games in 2020, he only hit three home runs while stealing three bases and hit .188. The first 132 games and 420 plate appearances don’t make anyone feel warm and fuzzy about drafting Varsho with such a high pick. 

Varsho did show some improvements from 2020 to 2021, with a decrease in strikeouts from 28.7% to 21.3%. He also saw an increase in his ISO from .178 to .190 and a nice increase in wRC+ from 75 to 98. Heck, his OPS even increased from .653 to .755. Yes, these are small samples, and yes, these are still not the results one would like, but they are subtle improvements, especially for a 25-year-old. 

The plate discipline appeared to improve as his strikeout rates dropped, but his contact improvements may have been the most critical change. Varsho improved his contact rates over the last two seasons, and ironically the improvements coincided with being more aggressive at the plate. 


O-Swing%O-Contact%Z-Swing%Z-Contact%Swing%Contact%
202027.90%53.20%65.50%81.80%45.80%70.90%
202131.10%67.80%71.40%83.90%50.90%77.60%

Varsho was chasing more while also swinging more in the zone. Just being more aggressive helped him improve in his offensive production. The most significant leap was the O-Contact% which is a bit dangerous as that may be tough to be sustainable. However, I will tend to believe his outstanding minor league offensive production and say the 2021 Varsho is more in line with what we should expect going forward. 

Since 2018 Varsho played in 259 minor league games. Over those 259 games, he hit 46 home runs while stealing 49 bases. So that is solid 29 home runs and 31 stolen bases pace over 162 games. Sure, that is not realistic, but what is realistic is, say, 20+ home runs and 20+ stolen bases…at catcher. 

He is a Unicorn

When we think about catchers, speed is rarely on the radar. However, there is a reason Realmuto and a few other catchers get some extra fantasy love, and that is due to their ability to steal bags. So insert Varsho and his next-level ability to steal bags. 

We already discussed the chances Varsho could steal 20+ bags in a season, but some may not really believe he can, so let’s look at a stat some look to for elite base stealing. We see the fantastic Stacast metric, sprint speed when looking at the Baseball Savant leaderboards. Sprint speed is measured in ft/sec.

When looking at Varsho, he ranks in the 84 percentile among all baseball players with a sprint speed of 28.4 ft/sec. That is pretty darn good and ranks tied for second at catcher with Jorge Alfaro and is only behind J.T. Realmuto, who has a sprint speed of 28.8 ft/sec.

Varsho is one of the fastest catcher eligible players in baseball, but that may not convince many that he’s that fast. Well, let me show you some of the everyday players that we love to target for steals that are the same speed or close to Varsho.


Sprint Speed (ft/sec)
Whit Merrifield28.6
Adalberto Mondesi28.5
Cedric Mullins28.5
Starling Marte28.4
Ozzie Albies28.4
Jose Ramirez28.2

As you can see, Varsho’s 28.4 ft/sec sprint speed is outstanding. The league average sprint speed is 27 ft/sec, which means that Varsho is well above the league average. Lastly, playing outfield more often than catcher will also save his legs and allow him to continue running at an elite level as the season wears on.

Conclusion

Varsho is a highly polarizing player when it comes to draft day. It seems you are either on Team Varsho or a complete fade. If you are a fan of Realmuto, you should be a fan of Varsho. The Steamer projections have Varsho only playing 95 games and still hitting 18 home runs and stealing eight bases. He should play more games than that, so we shall look at the Steamer 600 projections with a stat line of .253/23/71/77/11. The steals still seem low, but the home runs project him in the top five at catcher while the R/RBI/SB ranks second. 

Varsho could be a catcher eligible player who puts up a 20+/20+ season, which is flat-out elite. His current December NFBC DC ADP is 104, and he is the fourth catcher off the board. If he goes 20/20, he is worth every bit of that pick and maybe quite a value. Of course, there is always a concern he falls short and loses playing time. For now, you are either Team Varsho or complete fade, and around these parts, we are TEAM VARSHO, the fantasy baseball-catching unicorn.