Ryan Lavarnway, the Boston Red Sox top-rated minor league catching prospect, made it to the Triple-A level on Monday. Unfortunately, his equipment did not
“On Sunday after our noon game in Portland, we put all of our stuff on a bus and sent it to Akron, Ohio, so my catcher’s gear, cleats, and gloves are all in Ohio right now,” Lavarnway said before Mondays’ game. “I’m going to be borrowing some stuff. They had an extra set of catcher’s gear in the clubhouse, I’m going to borrow Exposito’s cleats, and Hideki Okajima’s translator’s catcher’s mitt. Fortunately, I had some extra bats sitting around in the locker room in Portland.”
(Photos courtesy of Kelly O’Connor)
If Lavarnway was uncomfortable without his own “stuff,” it certainly wasn’t obvious in his Triple-A debut. The 23-year-old went 2-for-4 with a pair of doubles and gunned down the only runner that tried to steal against him in Pawtucket’s 4-1 loss to Charlotte.
“He’s a good kid,” said PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler. “Everybody always asked about his defense and his defense when I had him last year in Portland was great. He caught the ball, pitchers liked throwing to him, he blocked the ball pretty well, and threw runners out. He’s got a little bit of unorthodox throwing mechanics I guess – it’s not the clean, strong arm that you’re used to seeing – but he throws guys out. He’s got a quick release and gets the ball down there.”
Lavarnway, who didn’t become a full-time catcher until his sophomore year in college, has battled the “good bat/suspect glove” reputation since the Red Sox drafted him out of Yale in the 6th round in 2008. Does Ryan consider that scouting report to be fair?
“It definitely was fair coming in,” Lavarnway said. “Especially looking back at how far I’ve come in Lowell (2008) and even to start the year in Greenville (2009). I had a long way to go with my catching and I got exposed a little bit, and I don’t think I could have caught a five-man pitching staff without getting exposed. I’ve put in timeless hours and countless effort and I’m pretty good back there now and people are starting to notice. It’s not widely recognized yet and I guess that’s to be expected. I have to earn that, and I’m going to come out here and earn the respect of the pitching staff first and hopefully everyone else will follow.”
“A few years ago, he was ‘a bat.’” said Beyeler. “But he’s really taken to catching and he’s developed. He’s still improving and it’s still kind of new to him, but we’re letting him do what he does and it’s working.”
But it’s fair to say that Lavarnway was drafted primarily for his offensive ability. Ryan led the NCAA in batting with a .467 average as a sophomore, and holds the Ivy League record for career home runs with 33. The California native says he chose Yale for its baseball program more than its academic reputation.
“When I tell people that playing baseball has been my childhood dream since I was five years old and never really faded, they ask, ‘Well then why did you go to Yale?’” Lavarnway said. “I tell them that’s where the opportunity to play baseball was. I wasn’t as big as I am now coming out of high school and wasn’t a widely-recruited prospect, and the opportunity to play was at Yale. I wasn’t good enough to play pro ball out of high school and I wasn’t good enough to play at a lot of big-time D-I schools, and that’s not the only way to get to pro ball.”
Now Ryan finds himself one step from the major leagues. His luggage is expected to join him in Pawtucket today.
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