Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Ryan Lavarnway Fighting To Keep His Baseball Career Alive in 2014

The 2014 season will be a critical one for Red Sox catcher Ryan Lavarnway. The 26-year old is down to his last option and is a long shot to make the 25-man roster out of spring training.

An option allows a team to send a player back and forth from the minors to majors during a season. Every player has three option years.

In essence, a team can send a player down to the minors for just three seasons. After that, the player must stick on the 25-man roster, or his team risks losing him. After a player has made trips back to the minors in three different seasons, he must first be passed through waivers (where he can be claimed by another team) before again being reassigned to the minors.

That means Lavarnway has to show the Sox enough this season to stick with the big league club, or else 2014 will likely be his last with the organization.

The problem for Lavarnway is that he is currently blocked by two veteran catchers, A.J. Pierzynski and David Ross, at the big league level.

Beyond that, Lavarnway also sits behind minor league catchers Christian Vazquez (age 23) and Blake Swihart (age 21) on the depth chart. The Sox see the latter two as their catchers of the future.

Lavarnway was once viewed as a solid prospect with lots of power potential. After all, he stands 6'4" and weighs 240 pounds. With that kind of size, Lavarnway certainly profiles as a power hitter. And for a few years, he proved it in the minors.

In 2009, at Single-A Greenville, Lavarnway belted 21 homers along with 36 doubles, 87 RBI and a .540 slugging percentage. He followed that in 2010 by hitting a combined 22 homers and 27 doubles, to go along with 70 RBI and a .489 slugging, between Greenville and Double-A Portland.

The next season, 2011, was split between Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket. Lavarnway took a big step forward, smashing a combined 32 homers, along with 23 doubles, 93 RBI and a fantastic .563 slugging percentage.

Lavarnway appeared to be on his way to a productive big league career, and seemed poised to supplant Jason Varitek as the Red Sox' primary catcher.

But, beginning in 2012, Lavarnway took giant steps backward. His development didn't merely stop, but seemed to regress.

That season, the catcher had just 8 homers and a .439 slugging through 319 at-bats at Pawtucket.

Last year, Lavarnway performed even worse at Pawtucket, hitting .250/.346/.350 in 214 plate appearances. While the .346 OBP is respectable, his .350 slugging percentage was horrid. After all, there are guys who bat .350 each year. It is a clear sign that Lavarnway's power has simply vanished.

Lavarnway had stints with the Red Sox in each of the last three seasons, getting 43, 166 and 82 plate appearances, respectively. Though it's a relatively small sample size (totaling just 291 plate appearances), Lavarnway has shown little power, or anything else. In that span, the catcher has hit just 5 homers and posted a .208/.258/.327 line.

The last two seasons have lowered Lavarnway's stock and diminished the organization's once great hope for him. In fact, it has served to drop Lavarnway down the organizational depth chart and put him on the bubble.

The upcoming season could be a make or break one for Lavarnway. It's time to perform and show some value, or potentially face being released.

That's why GM Ben Cherington has confirmed that Lavarnway will get some time at first base this spring, and may also play some first base at Pawtucket this season.

The idea seems to have been embraced by Lavarnway, who says, "Any way I can find to make myself more valuable to the team as a player, I look at as a positive.”

It's not just that Lavarnway will be fighting for a job with the Red Sox this season, or even a spot in the minors. He'll be fighting to keep his baseball career alive at any level, with any club.

Baseball is all about seizing the moment and proving your value, and Lavarnway knows this.

“At the end of the day, how you play dictates everything in the game,” Lavarnway said. “Every opportunity that you earn, or that's afforded you, is a direct reflection of how the way that you've played. I need to continue to improve every day."

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