How Blue Jays’ Daulton Varsho plans to hit better this season

DUNEDIN, Fla. — When last season ended, Daulton Varsho took a full month to reflect on the year that was. It was his first campaign with the Blue Jays and while he felt he provided stellar defence to the club, he wasn’t content with his offensive performance.

Varsho regressed in a number of categories and pored over video of his at-bats to see what adjustments he could make in 2024. Around U.S. Thanksgiving, Varsho began working with his father, former major-leaguer Gary Varsho, to devise a plan on how to improve.

The Blue Jays outfielder identified he was trying too hard to lift the baseball and, as a result, his swing was getting underneath pitches far too often. He calls it a bad habit and notes that it intensified as season wore on.

“A lot of this game is turning into a launch angle [focus], trying to hit it up in the air and I think I got in the way of trying to lift too many balls last year,” Varsho said. “I hit too many fly balls last year and when I got into my good counts, I was missing [pitches] by fouling them back.”

The numbers support that. Varsho’s fly-ball percentage last season was 47.2, an increase from the 44.3 per cent he recorded in 2022, per FanGraphs. As well, his 19 per cent infield fly-ball rate was the highest of his career.

Armed with that knowledge, Varsho set out to work with his father on correcting his swing.

“The big thing for me was trying to get back to getting above the baseball and staying through it,” he said. “Trying to get back to what I’ve done really well [in the past].

“When I’m able to stay above the baseball, I’m able to drive it,” he added. “Last year, I was lifting balls and a couple of them went out but then my misses were pop ups and foul tips … I don’t care where it goes — it’s about getting above it, staying through it and hitting it hard. Those are the three things I’m really trying to focus on.”

Varsho has been working on that all spring and has enjoyed success during his Grapefruit League appearances. He’s hit .364 (12-for-33) over 14 games, recording three doubles and eight walks compared to three strikeouts.

Blue Jays manager John Schneider says the club worked with the 27-year-old on his pitch selection and, so far, the results have been fruitful.

“He’s finding himself in good counts and swinging at good pitches,” Schneider said. “I think him talking about that all off-season with [Blue Jays hitting coaches], now he’s getting pitches in spots that he can handle and he’s not really missing them. So, with that, it starts with laying off pitches that he was probably offering at last year and then finding himself in good counts. Or, if they’re neutral counts, he’s just looking in a pretty specific spot.”

Another element to Varsho’s game that could evolve this season is his running. His sprint speed ranks in the 70th percentile of big-leaguers and he’s stolen 16 bases in each of the past two campaigns. He’s already swiped six bags this spring and Schneider said that could be something to expect more of from Varsho this year.

“I think so. I mean, he’s such a good baserunner and he’s fast, so that’s something we talked about after [last] season — getting out there a little bit more with his leads and being more aggressive,” said the manager. “It’s been a good camp for him in that regard, as well. It’s part of his package, part of his deal, what he can bring to the table. So, it’s been it’s been cool to see.”

Varsho was traded to the Blue Jays in the December 2022 deal that sent Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Gabriel Moreno to the Arizona Diamondbacks. At this point last year, Varsho was taking time to get acquainted in his new organization.

Now, though, those introductory experiences are behind him. He’s had a full year to acclimatize himself to Blue Jays’ staff, coaches and players. Naturally, it’s helped him feel more at ease.

“I was really excited to come to spring,” said Varsho. “Obviously, joining the team last year, didn’t really know anybody, didn’t know staff. And so, having those relationships with people now and having more comfortable talks, being able to have that communication for both sides, me and them, now it just makes it a ton easier to have those conversations, whether they’re hard or easy.

“It’s one of those things where you have that comfort being around the same guys in the clubhouse you really enjoy being around.”