It was an abysmal season for the Arizona Diamondbacks, but even amid the 110 losses there were glimmers of hope. The play of Eau Claire Express alumnus Daulton Varsho was certainly one of them.
Varsho showed signs of being a potential franchise cornerstone when he caught fire at the end of Arizona’s campaign. The versatile catcher and outfielder, who starred for the Express in 2015 and 2016, hit .275 across the final three-plus months of the season to finish the year with a .246 batting average and .755 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage). He homered 11 times and drove in 38 runs in addition to providing solid defense at multiple positions.
It was an otherwise forgettable year for the Diamondbacks, but the play of the 25-year-old was notable.
“He’s a very special talent,” Arizona manager Torey Lovullo said in September, “and the more opportunity that he’s getting, the more he’s learning, the more he’s helping us win baseball games.”
Varsho struggled in his first season in the majors in 2020, and could have been on track for more of the same after a difficult return in May and June. But he began to click as the summer heated up, posting a .986 OPS in July — a month in which he bashed five home runs.
He kept the momentum rolling from there, hitting better than .270 the rest of the way.
“He is making quality adjustments,” Lovullo said in September. “(He’s shown us) that he is learning and growing day by day making good decisions at the plate. He has shown some unbelievable defensive versatility and is just continuing to push forward and show us what he’s capable of doing on a very consistent basis. That’s really what a major leaguer does. He knows how to do it every at-bat, every night.”
Varsho, the nephew of Express manager Dale Varsho, took a simple approach and found success with it.
“I just think I’m taking it one day at a time, having fun and the rest just kind of takes care of itself,” Varsho said last month.
Varsho wasn’t the only local alumni to have success in professional baseball this year.
Vavra played for a new organization for the first time this season. Included in part of a trade from Colorado to Baltimore in 2020, the Menomonie native picked up right where he left off in the minor leagues.
Vavra hit .275 with five homers and a .855 OPS this season, splitting time between the Orioles’ Advanced-A and Double-A affiliates. He ranks as Baltimore’s 13th-best minor league prospect, according to MLB.com.
The second baseman missed all of July with a back injury, but did well in limited action in August and September.
“I wanted to show that I could be a table-setter for some of those big bats that were coming up behind me,” Vavra told the Baltimore Sun in August. “Early in the year we had, and still to this day, we have a lot of talented players. I know that me personally, the more I can get on and help those guys and set them up for success, the better the team is going to be. That’s really my goal every time that I step into the box, just get the next guy in a better situation than he was if I wasn’t up before him. I’m just trying to get stronger, hit the ball harder, show that I can do some damage, too, when the time comes.”
Vavra was the MVP of the South Atlantic League in 2019 when he was still part of the Rockies organization. He continued to find success despite moving up to Double-A this summer.
“He’s starting to pull the ball more with more authority and I think you’re going to start seeing a little more power because of that,” Bowie Bay Sox manager Buck Britton told the Baltimore Sun. “He’s got a knack for barreling the ball. He has pretty good hand-eye coordination, finds the barrel a lot. I think as he starts getting more comfortable pulling the ball in the air, the power is going to jump a little bit. But I think Vavra, if he can be versatile in the field — play the outfield, play second base — I think his ticket is going to be he’s going to be a good hitter. … I think he’s got a chance to hit a little bit.”
Calhoun, an Eau Claire Express alumnus, is an established big-league hitter, but was hampered by injuries in Arizona this season. He played just 50 games as he worked through issues with his knee and hamstring. The slugger posted a .235 average with five homers.
The Diamondbacks have a team option on Calhoun’s contract for next year. They can keep the outfielder for $9 million or move on.
“I would definitely love to be back here,” Calhoun said at the end of the season. “I was born and raised here. I was a Diamondbacks fan probably before anyone else in this organization was.”
The River Falls native began the year with Milwaukee before being traded to Tampa Bay as part of the deal to bring shortstop Willy Adames to the Brewers.
Feyereisen had a solid year out of the bullpen for the AL East champion Rays. He finished 4-4 with a 2.73 ERA to help Tampa Bay reach the postseason. The former UW-Stevens Point star took the loss on Monday night as Boston won their Division Series in walk-off fashion at Fenway Park.
Cody’s season was ravaged by injury with the Texas Rangers. The Chippewa Falls native only pitched in April before being sidelined with a shoulder injury. He underwent surgery in September and Texas is reportedly hoping for him to return in the second half of next season.
The McDonell graduate made seven appearances and finished with a 7.94 ERA out of the bullpen.
The Eau Claire native saw plenty of action on the mound with the St. Louis Cardinals’ Double-A affiliate this season.
Roach, a Memorial graduate, made 19 starts and pitched 114.2 innings for the Springfield Cardinals. He logged a 5.65 ERA with a 7-10 record.