Ryan Lavarnway’s Big League Stint Might Be Brief, But Catcher Needs to Showcase Talent Now More Than Ever

Ryan LavarnwayIf good things come to those who wait, Ryan Lavarnway has a successful big league career ahead of him. The young catcher currently has a chance to lay some groundwork.

Lavarnway is a player in flux. The Red Sox’ signing of veteran backup catcher David Ross to a two-year deal in the offseason meant that Lavarnway, once considered Boston’s backstop of the future, was looking at some more time in the minors despite spending the tail end of the 2012 season with the major league club. It was somewhat surprising considering Boston’s catching situation seemed to be all set — with Lavarnway backing up Jarrod Saltalamacchia — but the organization clearly wasn’t 100 percent sold on Lavarnway’s 46-game stint at the end of the Bobby Valentine era.

The Red Sox’ skepticism was warranted. Lavarnway is still developing defensively and has tremendous offensive upside, but he looked overwhelmed at the big league level. The Yale graduate hit just .157 and got on base at a .211 clip in 166 plate appearances last season, creating plenty of debate about how high his ceiling really is.

Lavarnway will turn 26 in August, and while he still has plenty of time to become an everyday catcher — or even a backup — at the major league level, he’s currently in the midst of a crucial time in his professional baseball career. Obviously 26 isn’t old, but given the wear and tear that catchers endure, he needs to begin proving he’s big league-ready.

Making an impact became more difficult for Lavarnway in the wake of Ross signing a two-year pact. Lavarnway has been playing well at Triple-A Pawtucket, hitting .313 with two home runs and 15 RBIs in 22 games, but it doesn’t quite have the same effect, especially since we’ve already seen him thrive in the minors. That’s what makes Lavarnway’s brief stints with the Red Sox this season so important.

Lavarnway was called up earlier this season when Alfredo Aceves was demoted because he was the best available bat in the minors, but the catcher never saw any game action. Lavarnway has already received two starts since being called up with Ross on the seven-day concussion disabled list, though, and while he’s only 1-for-7 at the plate, there have been some positives to take away.

Lavarnway put together a pretty good game on Saturday night in Minnesota, as he was certainly a factor in the Red Sox’ 12-5 win. Lavarnway finished 1-for-4, but his lone hit was an RBI single, he hit another ball hard right at Twins center fielder Aaron Hicks in the fourth inning and he tacked on an insurance run with a sacrifice fly in the ninth inning.

It was Lavarnway’s contributions in the field that stood out most on Saturday. He helped save a run in the third inning by blocking a splitter in the dirt from Ryan Dempster with Josh Willingham on third base. And later, he withstood a collision at home plate and hung onto the baseball to complete a double play and keep the Red Sox’ two-run lead intact.

To say that Saturday’s effort proves Lavarnway is a big league-caliber catcher would be a huge overstatement. He needs to consistently show efforts like that, however, in order to prove he is still Boston’s catcher of the future.

Lavarnway might not get a lot of chances in the majors this season, which only makes each opportunity that much more important.

Have a question for Ricky Doyle? Send it to him via Twitter at @TheRickyDoyle or send it here.

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