All Aboard The Lavarnwagon

If he keeps this up, Ryan Lavarnway could join the list of famous graduates from his Alma mater – and no, I’m not referring to Yale University where the 23-year-old catcher is still two semesters shy of his philosophy degree.

I’m referring to El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills, CA, where the graduates include actors Christopher Knight (Peter Brady in The Brady Bunch), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (“McLovin” in Super Bad), and William Zabka (Johnny “Sweep the Leg” Lawrence in The Karate Kid). 

(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)

Lavarnway is batting .317/.388/.580 (.968 OPS) with 15 2B, 23 HR, and 63 RBI in 84 games between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket, and while Red Sox fans are starting to hop on the “Lavarnwagon” (a term coined by PawSox fan Don Werner), Ryan says that he is ignoring the growing buzz about his minor league exploits.

“I have no idea about that,” Lavarnway said.  “I’m going to take care of my business on the field and anything else is superfluous.  That can really become a distraction and I’m going to try not to let it be.”

Despite going 0-for-4 with a walk in Sunday’s 13-3 loss to Durham, Lavarnway is batting .417 with 6 home runs in his last 16 games for the PawSox.  Prior to Sunday’s game, I asked Pawtucket manager Arnie Beyeler the following question:  If Red Sox manager Terry Francona called you today and asked if Lavarnway is ready to hit in the major leagues, what would your answer be?

“I would have a tough time saying no,” Beyeler told me.  “The thing this kid does really well is that he has an idea at the plate.  He has a plan up there and he knows the strike zone.  He’s a big, strong kid so he can drive the baseball.  He’s had a few balls fall in, but he’s driven the baseball.  He uses the whole field well and he takes what pitchers give him.  He watches how guys are working people and he goes up there with a plan.”

Lavarnway has already increased his home run total for the third straight year, going from 21 at Single-A Greenville in 2009, to 22 between High-A Salem and Portland in 2010, to 23 this season with nearly 50 games to go.

Praise for Ryan’s hitting ability is always accompanied by questions about his defense.  In 15 games as Pawtucket’s catcher, Lavarnway has thrown out 29% of opposing base stealers with 0 errors and 2 passed balls, but it’s hard to evaluate a catcher’s defensive ability solely by using traditional stats. 

“He’s doing a nice job,” Beyeler said.  “The big thing is getting to know pitchers – he doesn’t know a lot of these guys.  These veteran guys have the 55-foot breaking ball that they throw with two strikes that is a little bit tougher to block and he’s adjusting to that stuff.  He gets rid of the ball very well on stolen bases.  You guys keep track of the caught stealing percentage, but the stuff we use is how they do when they have a chance or don’t have a chance.  He’s done a nice job.  You put the whole package together and you’ve got a pretty good ballplayer.”

In his first 30 games at the Triple-A level, Lavarnway has an OPS of 1.121.  To put that into perspective, there is only one player in the big leagues with an OPS over 1.000 this year –Toronto’s Jose Bautista at 1.171.

Is Ryan surprised by his stats so far with Pawtucket?

“I don’t think that surprised is the right word,” Lavarnway told me.  “I don’t know if I expected this kind of production, but I’ve prepared myself on a daily basis to be able to do this and I’m going to continue to do that and hopefully keep producing.”

“I think that’s him,” Beyeler said.  “He just expects to do well and he’s always asking questions and trying to improve.  He knows his swing, he’s got a great idea of what he’s trying to do at the plate, he’s not afraid to use the whole field, and he’s not afraid to strikeout.  He’s not afraid to take a good swing and miss and he gets after it.” 

It sounds like it’s almost time to update the Wikipedia page for El Camino Real High School.

* * * * *

The PawSox open a 4-game series at McCoy Stadium against first-place Lehigh Valley on Monday night at 7:05.  I hope you’ll join us for radio coverage beginning with the pre-game show at 6:50 on the PawSox radio network and pawsox.com.  The game can also be seen on Cox Sports Television throughout Rhode Island.

I’d love to hear from you.  The address is dhoard@pawsox.com.

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I have finally joined Facebook.  Just search for Dan Hoard and look for the photo of me with the handsome lad.

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