Lavarnway—once considered the most likely replacement for Jason Varitek as catcher, yes he has been a prospect that long—now finds himself without a natural position to play.
Splitting the last three seasons between Boston and Pawtucket, Lavarnway was stuck behind Jarrod Saltalamacchia and, recently, David Ross behind the plate. Any chance of him catching regularly this year was shot down when Boston signed A.J. Pierzynski to replace Saltalamacchia.
After six seasons on the long journey to become a Major League Baseball starter, this shift to first is his last chance to catch on with the Red Sox. The starting job is not open, of course, as Mike Napoli and Carp stand in Lavarnway’s way. Grabbing a bench slot, or showing a talent that could see him traded to a club that can use him, is another matter.
Drafted out of Yale in 2008 as a sixth round pick by the Red Sox, Lavarnway showed the minors that he possessed great power. In 2010, splitting his time between advanced Single-A Salem and Double-A Portland, he crushed 22 home runs driving home 102. He followed that up in 2011, spitting between Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket, mashing 32 homers and 93 RBI.
Lavarnway earned a September call up to Boston, in time for, well, the collapse of 2011.
After struggling in his 17 games with the big club—no big surprise—Lavarnway spent 2012 shuttling between Boston and Pawtucket, hitting the proverbial glass ceiling on one of those trips through Foxborough.
A .290’s hitter in Salem and Portland, Lavarnway could not hit big league hitting at Fenway. Batting .157 in 46 games of the Red Sox lost season, he fell out of favor and was stashed back in Rhode Island, waiting to be needed.
Hitting .295 for the PawSox in ’12, his average slumped to .250 last year. His power stroke and playing time shrunk, hitting only 11 home runs the last two seasons in the minors and in only 50 games in 2013.
If you are looking for a silver lining, the 25-year-old did hit .299 in 25 games with Boston last year. Maybe, that offense can find a comeback, but Lavarnway is too experienced now to be considered a hot prospect and is effectively road blocked from having a meaningful starting job with the Red Sox.
Not considered a defensive genius behind the plate, the hope is that the possible transition to first will seem natural. It worked for Napoli and old friend Kevin Youkilis as they became defensive wizards after making the shift.
However, with Napoli under contract until 2015 and Carp still under team control, there is no place to stash Lavarnway on the Red Sox roster unless there is an injury. If he can find his batting pop again, the gamble is worth it. If not, then his playing days in New England are likely numbered.
*All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.
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