After a very slow start to the 2012 season, the Red Sox’ catcher of the future is finally heating up at triple-A Pawtucket. Ryan Lavarnway was the Red Sox minor league Co-Player of the Year last season (along with Bryce Brentz) after a fantastic season split between double-A and triple-A that saw him hit .290 with 32 home runs and 93 RBIs total. These numbers even earned Lavarnway a cup of coffee with the Red Sox– where he hit .231 with 2 homers in 17 games. Lavarnway was expected to serve as the Red Sox’ backup catcher to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but the signing of Kelly Shoppach complicated matters.
The Red Sox didn’t want to hurt Lavarnway’s development by having him sit on the bench as a third catcher, so they sent him down to triple-A Pawtucket. Whether it was a lack of confidence or disappointment about being back in the minors, something affected Lavarnway and he got off to a very slow start at Pawtucket. In 19 games in April, Lavarnway’s slash line was a mediocre .261/.381/.377– slugging almost 200 points lower than he had the previous season. His struggles continued in May, as he hit just .275/.359/.375, and by the end of the month, his season wasn’t looking promising. He was only hitting .268 with 3 home runs, and with Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s hot streak, it wasn’t looking like a call up was anywhere in sight.
However, as soon as June has hit– Lavarnway has been on a tear. In just four games, he’s already boosted his batting average up to .299 (31 points higher), hit two home runs (five on the season now), and brought his slugging percentage up to a respectable .449 mark (it was at .389 at the end of May). The general consensus is that Lavarnway’s bat is major league ready and it’s just his catching skills that need to improve. However, he enrolled in “Camp Tuck”– the rigorous catching program before spring training held by Red Sox bullpen coach Gary Tuck, and now has improved tremendously according to scouts.
With Saltalamacchia hitting at a fine .278/.323/.588 clip with 11 home runs and 27 RBIs this year, it doesn’t appear Lavarnway will be the starting catcher anytime soon. Saltalamacchia’s contract year is 2013, however, so that could mark Lavarnway’s last year as a prospect. He is ranked as the Red Sox’ fifth prospect on SoxProspects, but a catcher with a good bat is always a valuable commodity. It appears that we may see him as a September call up, but until then– he’ll hopefully continue to rake at Pawtucket.