Commentary

PawSox pulling for Lavarnway

Teammates, coach say hot-hitting prospect earned his shot in Boston

Updated: August 19, 2011, 9:26 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- The Pawtucket Red Sox were preparing for the bottom of the sixth inning against the Columbus Clippers (Cleveland Indians) on Thursday night at McCoy Stadium when suddenly all the attention was focused on the video board in right field.

PawSox manager Arnie Beyeler and many players in the Pawtucket dugout were watching as former teammate Ryan Lavarnway made his major league debut with the Red Sox in Kansas City.

Boston's top catching prospect had been promoted to the big club earlier in the day when Red Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis (back) landed on the disabled list. With his friends in Pawtucket looking on, Lavarnway flied out to center field in his first at-bat in the big leagues.

[+] EnlargeRyan Lavarnway
Ed Zurga/Getty ImagesRyan Lavarnway, batting seventh in the lineup, went 0-for-4 in his debut with the Red Sox on Thursday.

Lavarnway has quickly become a household name in Red Sox Nation for his offensive prowess in his four minor league seasons, especially this summer.

"He's a pretty solid package," Beyeler said prior to Pawtucket's 7-5 loss to Columbus. "I'm very excited. He's earned a spot. Any time guys do what he's done, it's nice to see him get an opportunity, without a doubt. Hopefully he goes up there, does a great job, fits in and gets a chance to show everybody what he did when he got here."

Red Sox manager Terry Francona indicated Thursday afternoon in Kansas City that Lavarnway will be counted on for his offense at this point. His catching is still a work in progress, and numerous big league scouts agree.

"Can he catch and throw runners out enough to stay up there?" one National League scout asked. "Love the offense and love his ability to control the strike zone and love the power. You want to make sure he's not a guy who has to move to first base. He's good offensively, but nobody is this good."

Between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket this season, Lavarnway, 24, hit .293 with 30 homers and 85 RBIs. He began the season with the Sea Dogs, and hit .284 with 14 homers and 38 RBIs in 55 games. He was called up to Pawtucket on June 13, and posted a .301 average with 16 homers and 47 RBIs in 55 games for the PawSox.

In fact, what he was able to accomplish at the plate when he first arrived at the Triple-A level was impressive. So, with all the injuries in Boston, it makes total sense that the Red Sox made the call to Lavarnway.

"He's earned it," PawSox reliever Scott Atchison said. "The guy has knocked the cover off the ball, and that's obviously what they're looking at is his bat right now. I hope he goes up and continues to do what he's done here because it'll be a big help to that team."

Lavarnway's torrid pace evened out a bit this month. At the time of his call-up, he was 5-for-44 in August with three home runs. He also was 1 for his last 22 with the PawSox.

"I don't think anyone could keep up the pace that he was keeping up," Atchison said.

Beyeler agreed.

"This league kind of adjusted to him a little bit, and he's played a lot," the manager said. "It's late in the year, and maybe he's getting tired a little bit. But he's done a great job. His catching is real good, and he's handled all of our pitchers. He's thrown runners out and he's blocked balls. He's done what he did last year in Portland."

Beyeler, in his first year as Pawtucket's skipper, managed Lavarnway at Portland last summer. He was called up from Class A Salem to Double-A on July 15, 2010, and quickly made the transition. Overall, he hit eight homers in 44 games for the Sea Dogs last season, including six in an 11-game stretch Aug. 19-31.

"He did the same thing last year in Double-A when he came up," Beyeler said. "He got off to a hot start, but nothing like this year. Last year it was a couple of weeks, but this year it was a solid month. It was comical."

Lavarnway is proving to be a professional hitter, not that the Red Sox organization is surprised.

"He's been swinging the bat really well and he's handling at-bats," Atchison said. "From a catching standpoint, I thought he made some big strides during his time here. He's made big jumps in learning the guys and calling the games. His defense has been pretty solid, but everybody knows there's room for improvement, and he knows that, too. He's asking questions and he's trying to learn, and it's been fun to be a part of that."

Not all players, especially top prospects, are willing to listen and learn from veteran players in the organization. The Red Sox do a good job of surrounding the organization's prospects with top-notch veterans, and those older players have been impressed with Lavarnway's willingness to learn.

"He's been open and very receptive to advice and different things," Atchison said. "He's really good at that, and that's good. It's exciting for him and it's good. He's made a big jump from Double-A to Triple-A and now the big leagues in a year, and that's impressive. I think he's going to handle it fine."

Youkilis is eligible to come off the disabled list Sept. 1, and with the PawSox having a strong possibility of earning a postseason berth, it'll be interesting to see whether the Red Sox decide to keep Lavarnway with the parent club or send him back to compete in the playoffs.

Either way, all eyes will be on this kid and his future.

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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