Ryan Lavarnway was once the darling of the Red Sox farm system. Blessed with the ability to hit for power from the catcher position, it was only a matter of time before he sharpened up his game calling and defensive skills and became the next historic Red Sox catcher, joining the likes of Fisk and Varitek.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Red Sox Hall of Fame. Despite the promise Lavarnway showed in his minor league career and in a brief stint in Boston at the end of 2011, he couldn’t crack the Sox roster the last two seasons as the likes of Kelly Shoppach and David Ross kept him off the major league roster.
With Ross now on the DL with concussion issues, another opportunity has arisen for Lavarnway to prove he is a viable major league talent. Until Ross returns, Lavarnway will fill the role of backup catcher to Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
It is sort of a mixed blessing. Yes, he’s getting another shot in The Show but with Salty hitting well in the early going, how much will he really get to play?
Manager John Farrell has been very impressed with Salty’s increased plate discipline and improved defense. As long as he hits, Farrell will ride his hot hand. That is obvious with Salty catching an entire 14-inning game and both ends of a doubleheader in recent weeks.
It is put up or shut up time for Lavarnway. He has to produce and turn some heads when he gets his chance.
No one expects him to severely cut into Salty’s workload but he must make Farrell think twice before automatically writing Salty’s name on the lineup card five times a week. It means he has to hit for power and be clutch when the situation presents itself.
Lavarnway has proven he can perform at the major league level. Think back to September 2011 when he got his first shot in the Bigs. He actually had some moments as the rest of his Sox teammates were historically collapsing around him. I remember some good play and hopeful moments (2 HR, 8 RBI in 17 games) from him as he rotated in at catcher in that final month.
It’s a real Catch-22 in that Lavarnway needs productive numbers but probably won’t get a lot of time in terms of at-bats or days on the roster. Ross is not expected to be out long term. It’s a tough spot for a young player to be in, but at a certain point a top prospect has to wow management with his play when he gets his chance, however limited it might be.
For Ryan Lavarnway, that time is now or he may just find himself out of chances here in Boston and starting over in another organization.