On the Blue Jays, Daulton Varsho has the potential to be either the next José Bautista or Colby Rasmus
By Edward Eng
Will Daulton Varsho hit more like José Bautista or Colby Rasmus in a Blue Jays uniform?
In December of 2022, Toronto Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins made a huge splash in giving up top prospect Gabriel Moreno, along with clutch hitter and fan favorite Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in a trade for Arizona Diamondbacks’ outfielder Daulton Varsho. At the time, the Jays had an excess of MLB-ready catchers and the Diamondbacks had an excess of supreme MLB outfielders, so it made sense that the two teams would get together for a deal.
However, the big trade was met with mixed reactions by diehard Blue Jays fans. As much as they would like to see the Jays defense tighten up and improve in the outfield, they felt giving up a No.1 prospect in all of baseball in Moreno, and a crowd favorite in Gurriel, for a non-household name in Varsho was a bit too much.
This hasn’t been the first time the Jays acquired and gave a chance to a player without any prior All-Star pedigree. Two players that quickly come to mind are Colby Rasmus and José Bautista. Both were playing on previous teams that deemed them expendable, and were dealt to the Jays in more underwhelming packages compared to that for Varsho. However, somewhat similar to Varsho, both players had shown potential with displays of respectable power and some decent defence.
If we take a look more closely at their offensive production in the year prior to joining the Jays, one can see some eerie similarities:
Varsho has the slight edge in power production and speed numbers, whereas Rasmus has the slightly greater average and OPS, and Bautista with the slightly better plate discipline with a higher walk-to-strikeout ratio. Each of this trio played around 140-150 games during the year and accumulated over 530 plate appearances, equivalent to the status of an everyday player.
For all three players, they had become established MLB players on their former team for a couple of years before being traded, they were not household names yet at the time, and were believed to have some untapped zpotential within them. They all seemed on the verge of breaking out before joining the Jays.
In terms of Rasmus and Bautista, the Jays believed that giving them the opportunity to excel in a new environment in the hitter-friendly confines of the Rogers Centre would enable them to flourish. For Bautista, he began his Jays’ tenure with part-time duty, playing both third base and the outfield, but eventually was then moved to right field full-time, and from there, the rest was history. He blossomed into a power-hitting machine with great plate discipline, combined with a cannon arm on defense, thus helping the Jays to greater success and ultimately a couple of strong postseason runs.
Rasmus, on the other hand, was less fortunate and did not have the same outburst and impact that Bautista provided. His offensive numbers remained relatively the same during his three-plus years with the Jays and eventually started showing signs of regression defensively as well with questionable defensive routes in the outfield. As such, he fell into a platoon position in 2014 and eventually even yielded to Anthony Gose. As Rasmus didn’t turn out to meet the potential that was expected of him, he ultimately was not resigned at the conclusion of the 2014 season.
One thing in common between Rasmus and Bautista, was the Jays didn’t have to give up much to obtain them, especially Bautista, as all that was required was a player to be named later. Because of this, the evolution of Bautista would be considered a huge win, and Rasmus a loss, as his production was decent, but just never really panned out.
The Blue Jays gave up a lot in Moreno and Gurriel, two great offensive threats, to get Varsho, a defensively-minded player with breakout offensive potential. The Jays definitely hope that by giving him roster security in being the everyday left fielder, along with the new hitting-friendly ballpark Rogers Centre, that lightning would strike twice in that he will develop into another Joey Bats, with superior defense to top it off.
However, early observations from Spring Training were a bit worrisome, as Varsho hit close to the Mendoza Line and often appeared overmatched in plate appearances, which was often the case back in the Rasmus era. Varsho's success will unfortunately be more or less scrutinized based on his production at the plate, regardless of how excellent he is on the outfield grass.