Although Ryan Lavarnway still considers himself a catcher first, the 26-year-old is open-minded about playing first base during Boston Red Sox spring training.
Lavarnway told WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford on a podcast that he spoke with Red Sox manager John Farrell in the last week, and he’s prepared to give first base a whirl down in Fort Myers.
“We’re going to give it a try. I’ve never played first base before. We’re going to throw it against the wall and see if it sticks,” Lavarnway told Bradford. “It could be great, and it could not work. We’re just not sure. I’m looking at it as an exciting new challenge, an exciting new opportunity, and any way I can find to make myself more valuable to the team as a player I look at as a positive.”
Lavarnway either has played catcher or served as a designated hitter in all of his 321 minor league and 88 major league games. Clearly, there’s going to be an adjustment period as he moves out from behind the dish, especially since there has been such an emphasis on improving his catching in recent years.
“Before this year, we were always really conscious of catching needing to be the priority,” Lavarnway said. “I needed to improve. I needed to continue to get reps. I think that everyone in the organization was very pleased with the improvements that I made, and, beyond improvements, the way that I played. So now, it’s about finding more at-bats for me, trying to get me in the lineup, and that’s the way it was expressed to me through John.”
Lavarnway’s biggest asset is his bat, so the advantages of moving the young backstop to first base are twofold. Not only will the shift alleviate the Red Sox’s current catching logjam — which features A.J. Pierzynski and David Ross at the major league level, and Christian Vazquez, Dan Butler and Lavarnway at Triple-A — but it also could allow Lavarnway to focus more on his offensive development, which seemingly has come to a standstill over the last two years.
Lavarnway, who hit .290 with 32 homers and 93 RBIs in 116 games split between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket in 2011, hit .250 with three homers and 24 RBIs in 50 Triple-A games in 2013. The former sixth-round pick hit .299 with one homer and 14 RBIs in 25 major league games last season.
“At the end of the day, how you play dictates everything in the game,” Lavarnway told Bradford. “Every opportunity that you earn or that’s afforded you is a direct reflection of the way that you’ve played. I need to continue to improve every day the way Jason Varitek taught me he did. Even in his final season, he was asking me my views and my opinions because he still thought he could learn and he could get better. That’s something I took serious, that he was always trying to get better even though he was considered the best in the game. I’m always going to try and get better, and I’m never going to be satisfied.”
Lavarnway said he ordered a first baseman’s mitt immediately after speaking with Farrell, and he’s excited to work with third base coach/infield instructor Brian Butterfield, who helped outfielder Daniel Nava learn how to play first base last spring training.
Photo via Wikipedia/Ryan Lavarnway