There are very few things that are harder to find in today’s fantasy baseball landscape than solid catcher production and stolen bases. Catcher has always been a fantasy owner’s nightmare—a position that is nearly impossible to fill with even average production unless you’re willing to overpay for a top-ranked catcher who will provide the same production you could get from a third or even fourth outfielder.
Many fantasy owners have abandoned the spot altogether, either adopting a zero-catcher strategy or streaming weak backstops against poor opponents in the hopes that, at least once or twice a week, one of them will lean into a misplaced fastball and poke one over the fence.
While catchers have long been the scourge of fantasy owners, stolen base troubles are a more recent development. The steal has proved to have limited real-life value and is rarely worth the risk of getting caught. With pitchers and catchers both throwing harder, and a heavier reliance on the long ball, the art of swiping a base is slowly being lost—making the category that much tricker in fantasy.
Steals are down across the league, which has prompted a debate over the category’s fantasy value. Some think that players who bring in a high volume of steals, like Billy Hamilton or Dee Gordon, are more valuable because they can single-handedly win a league. Others think that targeting one-trick ponies in a category that no one is succeeding at is foolish and ultimately hurts your team.
What no one has considered is the great white buffalo of fantasy assets: the catcher who can steal bases. While many believe this to be a myth—like a unicorn or a Scott Boras client signing before the new year—there is a 22-year-old backstop in the Arizona Diamondbacks system who could solve fantasy baseball’s two biggest conundrums at once.
Daulton Varsho’s Dynasty Value
Daulton Varsho was a competitive-balance selection by the Diamondbacks in 2017, going 68th overall. He raked at short-season Hillsboro, slashing .311/.368/.534 with seven home runs, 39 RBI and a 150 wRC+. He also tacked on seven steals—which put him on deep dynasty radars.
However, while that production is fantastic, it’s not surprising to see a well-developed college bat hit well in short-season ball. Still, it earned Varsho an aggressive promotion to High-A Visalia, where he played in just 80 games in 2018 thanks to a broken hamate bone.
Those 80 games are absolutely worth paying attention to, though, as he produced a .286/.363/.451 slash line with 11 home runs, 44 RBI and 19(!) stolen bases. Varsho then completed an 18-game stint in the Arizona Fall League, where he slashed .262/.377/.308. While he didn’t hit any home runs, he did swipe eight bases on 12 attempts.
All told, Varsho has played in 151 games between rookie ball, short season, High-A, and the Arizona Fall League. Here are his totals:
It’s also worth pointing out that while Varsho has the distinction of being a college bat in the lower levels of the minor leagues, he’s actually been between eight and 16 months younger than his opponents on average.
A few caveats before you all blow your dynasty dollars for this unique talent: For starters, Varsho will need to prove he can handle catching in the big leagues. He was rough coming out of college, though he has worked hard to improve behind the dish.
Some scouts think he will end up in left field, which no doubt crushes his fantasy value. A high-OBP catcher with double-digit home run and stolen base potential is elite—where that combination of skills is merely average for a corner outfielder.
Plus, stolen base numbers in the low minors are to be taken with a grain of salt. While 34 steals in 151 games is impressive, it mostly came against catchers who will not make the majors. Expecting Varsho to even steal 20 bases in the big leagues is a huge jump because of the skill of MLB catchers, and the reluctance of big league managers to give the green light on the basepaths.
Still, what we have here is a player who has dominated through a full season’s worth of at-bats while being younger than most of his competition. Varsho has a keen eye at the plate, a burgeoning power stroke from the left side, and the speed and wherewithal to swipe bases professionally. How that translates to the big leagues remains to be seen, but if you have the opportunity to “swipe” him in your dynasty drafts, he should be flying off the board early.
(Graphic created by Nathan Mills @NathanMillsPL)