Boston Promotes Ryan Lavarnway

Due to a back injury to veteran Kevin Youkilis, the Boston Red Sox club has promoted catcher/designated hitter Ryan Lavarnway to the Major Leagues. He made his debut Thursday night against the Kansas City Royals and went 0-for-4 with a strikeout. Lavarnway, 24, is not going to step into the Red Sox lineup and immediate produce at the star level that Youkilis has (4.1 WAR in ’11), but he should be slightly-above replacement level in the short term.

I’ve been eagerly anticipating Lavarnway’s arrival in the Majors. Out of the five pre-season Top 10 prospect lists for Boston [Baseball America, Kevin Goldstein, Keith Law, John Sickels], the scribe from and I were the only ones to place him on the Boston lists (Law earns mega points, though, for placing both Will Middlebrooks and Xander Bogaerts on his list).

After slugging 20+ home runs in both ’09 and ’10, Lavarnway has stepped out in an even bigger way in ’11 with 30 home runs split between double-A and triple-A. At the senior level, the Yale grad has a triple-slash line of .301/.385/.608 and an eye-popping ISO of .309 in 209 at-bats. The slow-footed catcher likely won’t post a .338 BABIP in the Majors, though, which has helped boost his overall numbers. Lavarnway strikes out a lot (23% in AAA) but you can live with those numbers as long as the power output is also there. On the plus side, he also takes more than his fair share of walks – albeit less often than the Greek God of Walks – with double-digit walk rates throughout his pro career.

The prospect’s weakness – defense – has been well documented by prospect analysts. Since allowing 26 passed balls in 66 games at low-A Greenville in 2009 Lavarnway has made strides behind the plate, but it’s still hard to find a scout that thinks he’ll wear the tools of ignorance at the MLB level on a full-time basis. He throws out a decent number of runners (approximately 35% over the past two seasons) but his receiving skills are still rudimentary and the 6’4” player doesn’t move around or block pitches well.

Although he’s probably not going to perform at the rate of a middle-of-the-order basher on a playoff-bound team right from the get-go, Lavarnway’s graduation to the Majors should be seen as the beginning of a solid MLB career. His ultimate defensive home will likely end up at first base or designated hitter, but he may also continue to see the odd start behind home plate as a team’s third-string catcher.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

39 Responses to “Boston Promotes Ryan Lavarnway”

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  1. Brian says:

    I can’t wait until Peter Gammons starts calling him the next Mike Piazza.

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  2. TylerTheCreator says:

    Let the Mike Napoli comps begin!

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  3. Telo says:

    Former/latter doesn’t work with any number of things other than two. Also, a little humblebraggy. I would say nail the English first, (since there were more than a few poorly constructed sentences), then we’ll listen to you talk about your awesome predictions coming true.

    -22 Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Sultan of Schwwingg says:

    Yankee fans must be dying inside with this promotion.

    6th round unknown outside the Ivy League circuit upstages Montero, the much hyped $2 mil bonus baby. Ouch. Even worse, Lavarnway looks and is treated like the better ballplayer.

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    • Mike R. says:

      No. Not really…

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    • jim says:

      …how has he ‘upstaged montero?” did they have a personal duel and montero hobbled away, broken and injured, while lavarnway guffawed to a crowd’s delight?

      +12 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Sultan of Schwwingg says:

        They appear to be very similar players: Heavy on offense, light on the D. Both are C/DH for the top 2 AL teams, who, I’m told, have some kind of rivalry going on – perhaps they’re aware of each other. Lavarnway was promoted half a season though his first AAA stint backed by improving numbers. Montero stayed back, and his numbers through this second year hint as to why.


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      • jim says:

        montero is also two years younger, and has put up better numbers in his minor league career….

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      • Sultan of Schwwingg says:

        You’re right that he’s 2 years younger.

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      • jim says:

        you’re right, wRC+s of 126, 142, 185, 152, 132, 110 are totally not better than 100, 153, 105, 145, 142, 136, and 138

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    • Sam says:

      Peter Gammons, is that you?

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    • Jon says:

      yes im sure yankee fans are totally livid that youkilis was placed on the DL and big papi is limping around in a walking boot

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    • Jason says:

      It absolutely kills me that the Redsox are forced to start a AAA hitter due to injury of one of their most important players.

      Kills me!

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        In 2011, BOS is paying 4 players a total of 53M for below replacement level performance (Crawford, Lackey, Daisuke, and Drew). That, to me, is mind blowing. When you throw in that they are likely going to the playoffs and might be the best team in MLB despite this, it’s just crazy.

        But, they’re able to do this because of homegrown mega values like Ellsbury, Youkillis, and Pedroia .. 16.9 WAR for 20.4M. (We could throw in Reddick’s 1.6 WAR in 186 PAs just for salt).

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  5. Stanky Hanke says:

    I got him for only $3 in my Ivy League-only league. Having him, Chris Young, Mark DeRosa, and a guaranteed win in saves via Mike Remlinger is going to carry my team for the next few years.

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  6. Jonathan says:

    Lavarnway is 4 years older than Montero.Don’t think he’s upstaged him one bit.

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  7. Bulldog! Bulldog!

    Bow wow wow!


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  8. John Petty Musselboro says:

    “Lavarnway has made strides behind the plate, but it’s still hard to find a scout that thinks he’ll wear the tools of ignorance at the MLB level on a full-time basis.”

    can someone explain what this sentence means? i’m not being sarcastic, i really just don’t understand it.

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    • Voxx says:

      He has improved defensively as a catcher to some degree, but in the opinion of most scouts, he’s not likely to be able to be a full time catcher at the Major League level due to defensive deficiencies.

      Seems pretty straight forwards to me, unless you’re simply not familiar with the term ‘tools of ignorance’ in relation to the Catching position.

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  9. Jake says:

    For god’s sake stop saying humblebrag.

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  10. CircleChange11 says:

    Catching equipment is called the “tools of ignorance” as sort of a badge of honor for catchers given the demanding nature of the position. Your legs get fatigued from the squatting and all of the foul tips, blocked pitches, and associated hard work it takes to get good at it.


    Interesting that the Royals gave Pedroia the “Cabrera Treatment”. Just as the Rays walk Cabrera and force Boesch to hurt them (he failed in consecutive attempts), KC IBB’d Pedroia twice to load the bases for Lavamway twice, and he stranded all 3 runners both times. Unlike the Rays, KC did this early in the game.

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    • Kyle says:

      The Royals actually intentionally walked Pedroia twice with Lowrie hitting behind him, not Lavarnway. However Lowrie singled both times to load the bases for Lavarnway.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        My bad.

        I saw it on Sportscenter, and they left out the Lowrie singles. They just showed Lavamway making the last out with the bases full.

        The highlights gave the perception that Pedroia was IBB’d to get to the “rookie”, just like what Maddon and TB did with cabrera and Boesch.

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  11. MC says:

    (1) Baseball
    (2) Running banks

    (Two things Yale graduates have generally not been very good at).

    Lavarnway may break the mold.

    (1) Self promotion.

    (One thing Yale grads are very, very good at.)

    If I get a comment about grammar in response to this post you will see me come out of your computer as in The Ring, tie you to your chair, and force you to watch Yale baseball games for hours on end. You’ve been warned.

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