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Two Powerful Catching Prospects: Joseph & Lavarnway

I had seen both Tommy Joseph and Ryan Lavarnway before, but when I saw them play against each other on Tuesday the similarities between the two catching prospects were striking. Both are big, bat first catchers. Both strike out a lot. Both hit for a lot of power for backstops. Both have some question marks about their ability to catch every day in the big leagues. What can these guys do for your fantasy team and when?

Tommy Joseph, C, PHI

The Phillies prospect was drafted out of high school in Arizona in the 2nd round in 2009. Joseph is not a very mobile receiver, but he has the kind of big, durable frame you like to see in a catcher. He has soft hands but his set up and pitch framing can get sloppy. He’s not a very good blocker and the lateral mobility isn’t great. Joseph possesses a strong arm but flaws in his footwork and release generally resulted in poor pop times in the 2.2-2.3 range (somewhere around 2.0 is considered to be MLB average). To his credit, Joseph does take charge well behind the plate and he works hard. Those things bode well in terms of his ability to continue improving.

At the plate, Joseph is largely focused on driving the ball. He takes a big cut and his swing can get a bit sweepy at times. The bat head takes a long path to the ball and Joseph has some problems identifying secondary pitches. So its likely he will always have significant amounts of swing and miss in his game. He isn’t a true hacker and will take a walk on occasion, but don’t expect high OBPs from Joseph.

The Path to Playing Time

Joseph is the primary catcher for Triple-A Lehigh Valley to begin 2013. The acquisition of Joseph for Hunter Pence perhaps spoke to Philadelphia’s internal valuations of formerly well regarded catching prospect Sebastian Valle. The big league club’s starting catcher is 34 year old Carlos Ruiz and he’s a free agent after this season. With a strong 2013 season Joseph can establish himself in the organization’s plans.

On 40 Man Roster: No
Options Remaining: 3

What to Expect

Low AVG but strong power numbers for a catcher – inflated even more by the cozy dimensions of Citizens Bank Park. Perhaps 15-20 home runs or more a year is possible.

Mixed League Value: Solid option. Lower AVG will hurt, but catchers who can hit home runs always have value.
NL Only League Value: Strong option.
Ottoneu Value: Usable, but not exciting.
OBP League Value: Unchanged. Joseph won’t rack up the walks and his low AVG drags down his OBP

 

Ryan Lavarnway, C, BOS

Lavarnway was selected by Boston in the 6th round in 2008 out of Yale. He’s large for a catcher and at 6’4” is even bigger than Joseph. Lavarnway’s size limits his mobility behind the plate. He’s not a great blocker but he has improved over the last couple seasons. He’s fringy as a big league catcher with less than ideal receiving and framing skills. Lavarnway compensates for a weaker arm with good technique and throwing mechanics.

Lavarnway is a patient, selective batter who has a good idea of what he wants to do at the plate. He lacks premium bat speed, but tries to adjust for that by starting his swing early in fastball counts. There is plenty of power in this swing with lots of hip torque and a slight uppercut in his swing plane. Lavarnway feasts on mistakes but will have trouble with quality stuff. Despite strong walk totals he will chase some pitches when he gets ahead, so there will be a fair amount of strikeouts. One great quality in Lavarnway’s game is that he’s a very cerebral player both at and behind the plate and that helps his somewhat limited tools play up.

The Path to Playing Time

Lavarnway is returning to Pawtucket but fellow PawSox catcher Dan Butler will likely steal some at bats from him. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a free agent this winter. David Ross was given a two year deal, but he’s a 36 year old and it’s on cheap money. The Red Sox don’t have a clear, long term solution at catcher but Lavarnway will need to have a strong 2013 campaign to get consideration.

On 40 Man Roster: Yes
Options Remaining: 2

What to Expect

A lower AVG but a good amount of power and some walks. I can see Lavarnway hitting 15-20 home runs a year, too, but I’m not confident he’ll get that much playing time since he’s probably best used as a part time catcher and part time first base/designated hitter.

Mixed League Value: Solid option. Low AVG but good HR totals for a catcher.
AL Only League Value: Strong option.
Ottoneu Value: Useful catcher. Very good backup at least.
OBP League Value: Lavarnway gets a boost in OBP leagues as he typically walks >10% of the time.

 

These two players have fairly similar profiles but I see Joseph as the slightly better prospect. Both will stick at catcher as merely “acceptable” defenders. Both will strike out a lot but make up for it with good power numbers from a catcher.

Thanks for reading -AS