August 2, 2012
The situation: A perfect storm of a struggling Jarrod Saltalamacchia, a banged-up Kelly Shoppach, and David Ortiz being placed on the disabled list has created another opportunity for Ryan Lavarnway, who went 9-for-39 (.231) in his big league debut last year that included a memorable two-homer game against Baltimore. He'll make his season debut Thursday night behind the plate.
Background: A sixth-round pick in the 2008 draft out of Yale, Lavarnway has been a consistent offensive performer, with a career minor league batting line of .294/.376/.506. His breakout occurred last year, when he posted a .290/.376/.563 line across two minor league levels, including 32 home runs in 116 games. He started slowly this year but got his numbers back in line by hitting .405 in June, although he was mired in a 2-for-18 slump at the time of his promotion.
What he can do: Lavarnway is an offensive-minded catcher who has the potential to be a well-above-average contributor for the position. He has a good approach at the plate and plus raw power, even though he has mysteriously dipped to eight home runs in 83 games this year following last year's barrage. He gets strong reviews for his makeup, baseball intelligence and work ethic, which have led to dramatic improvements defensively. Once seen as a fringe catcher who would thus become a fringe prospect as a first baseman and designated hitter, Lavarnway is now an average catcher with a solid arm, though he'll still never be confused with Yadier Molina defensively.
Immediate big league future: This appears to be a temporary move. Once Ortiz returns to reclaim the DH role, there likely won't be room for a third catcher on the squad. Lavarnway is more of a player to keep an eye on rather than one to make an immediate move for.
Long term: Lavarnway's future in Boston remains cloudy because of the positions he plays. There isn't an obvious opening for him in 2013, but he has been the subject of trade interest from plenty of teams looking for young catching.