Lavarnway with the Boston Red Sox in 2012
|Catcher / Designated hitter|
August 7, 1987 |
|August 18, 2011, for the Boston Red Sox|
(through 2015 season)
|Runs batted in||40|
Ryan Cole Lavarnway (pronounced la-VARN-way; born August 7, 1987) is an American professional baseball catcher for the Atlanta Braves of Major League Baseball (MLB). He has previously played in MLB for the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles.
Lavarnway attended Yale University, where in 2007 he won the NCAA batting title by hitting .467, and led the NCAA with an .873 slugging percentage. That year, Lavarnway also set the Ivy League record with a 25-game hitting streak. In addition, he set the Ivy League all-time career home run record, with 33.
Lavarnway was drafted by the Red Sox in 2008. In 2009, he led the South Atlantic League with 59 extra-base hits, and in 2010 he was a Carolina League Mid-Season and Post-Season All Star, and was named the Red Sox co-Minor League Offensive Player of the Year. In 2011, after he hit 30 home runs in 478 minor league at bats, Baseball America named Lavarnway the best power prospect in the International League and named him the catcher on its 2011 Minor League All-Star Team, and the Red Sox organization named him co-winner of their Offensive Player of the Year award.
He was called up to the major leagues by the Red Sox in August 2011, and divided his playing time between Pawtucket and the majors after that. Entering the 2012 season he was the No. 9 prospect in the Red Sox system according to Baseball America, and that season he was the International League All Star starting catcher, and a post-season IL All-Star. In 2014 with Pawtucket, Lavarnway led the team to the International League title, and was voted MVP of the IL series. He began the 2015 season on the Orioles' roster, was designated for assignment in May and opted to become a free agent, signed a minor league contract with the Atlanta Braves, and was brought back up to the majors in mid-June.
Lavarnway, who is Jewish, as is his mother, was born in Burbank, California and grew up in Woodland Hills, California. He played catcher in Little League. He attended El Camino Real High School, where he played outfield for the "Conquistadors" baseball team.
Lavarnway attended Yale University, where he was a philosophy major and played baseball for the Yale Bulldogs in the Ivy League. In 2006, he primarily played right field, and earned Ivy Player and Rookie of the Week honors on March 21.
In 2007 he moved from right field to catcher. Lavarnway led the NCAA in batting average (.467) and slugging percentage (.873), while setting Yale single-season records in those categories as well as in home runs (14), hits (70), doubles (17), RBIs (55), and total bases (131). He also had an Ivy-League-record 25-game hitting streak. He won the G.H. Walker, Jr. Award as Most Valuable Player. In addition, he was named Second-Team All-American by PingBaseball.com, Third-Team All-American by Baseball America, First-Team All-American by Jewish Sports Review, and Second-Team All-New England and Second-Team All-Northeast, while unanimously being elected First-Team All-Ivy.
Lavarnway played for the Manchester Silkworms in the New England Collegiate Baseball League in the summer of 2007, where he batted .313 and was honored as a starter on the league All Star team, and also competed in the home run derby.
In his junior year in 2008, Lavarnway led the Ivy League in home runs (13), RBIs (42), walks (29), slugging percentage (.824), and on-base percentage (.541), while batting .398. He missed the last 11 games of the year after breaking the scaphoid bone in his left wrist in April, diving into home plate. He became the Ivy League's all-time leader in career home runs, with 33.
Lavarnway won the Ivy League Player of the Week award three times in the first season's first four weeks (March 11, March 26, and April 1). He was a semi-finalist for the Johnny Bench Award and the Golden Spikes Award, was named Third-Team All-American by PingBaseball.com, and was named Second-Team All-Ivy and First Team All-New England. He finished his three-year-career with a .384 batting average, 33 home runs, and 122 RBIs in 120 games.
In 2012, Craig Breslow (also Jewish) and Lavarnway became the first Yale players to be Major League teammates since 1949, and the first All-Yale battery in the major leagues since 1883. Lavarnway wants to return to Yale to finish his philosophy degree.
Minor league career
Lavarnway was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 6th round of the 2008 Major League Baseball Draft. He signed for a $325,000 signing bonus, though he vows to study the extra year he needs to complete his degree. He had been projected to be drafted higher, before he broke his left wrist in April 2008.
In 2009, he played for the Greenville Drive for the year, in the Class A South Atlantic League, and started using a bigger bat. Lavarnway hit 21 home runs (a team all-time record) with a .540 slugging percentage (both tops for Red Sox minor leaguers) and 36 doubles (a team record), a league-leading 59 extra-base hits, and 87 RBIs (2nd in the league) in 404 at bats.
Lavarnway split 2010 between the Salem Red Sox of the Class A+ Carolina League, and the Portland Sea Dogs of the Class AA Eastern League, combining for 22 home runs (2nd among Red Sox minor leaguers; his 14 homers in his Carolina League stint led the league), 102 RBIs (first in the Red Sox system, and 11th among all minor leaguers), and a .489 slugging percentage (tops among Red Sox minor leaguers) in 462 at bats. He was a Carolina League Player of the Week (April 19), Mid-Season All Star, and Post-Season All Star, as well as an Eastern League Player of the Week (August 30). He was leading the league in homers, RBIs, and runs at the time of his promotion. For 2010, he was named the Red Sox co-Minor League Offensive Player of the Year, along with first baseman Anthony Rizzo. He also threw out 33% of attempted base-stealers, and was rated as the top Red Sox catching prospect by Baseball America.
Lavarnway started the 2011 season by splitting it between Portland and the Pawtucket Red Sox in the Class AAA International League, for whom he batted third in the lineup. With Portland, he hit 14 home runs with a .510 slugging percentage in 208 at bats, and with Pawtucket he hit 16 home runs with a .608 slugging percentage in 209 at bats. That was good for a combined total in mid-August of 30 home runs (tied for third-most in the minors), 85 RBIs, and a .559 slugging percentage in 478 at bats. By the All Star break, he was leading all players in the Red Sox organization, including major leaguers, in home runs.
He was also voted the International League Player of the Week on July 25, and received Topps Minor League Player of the Month honors for July. Baseball America named Lavarnway the best power prospect in the International League. The Red Sox organization named him a co-winner of their Offensive Player of the Year award. Defensively, his "pop times" on his throws from home-to-second-base were consistently 1.95–1.97 seconds, which corresponded to the major league average, and through mid-August he had made only one error behind the plate. Baseball America named him the catcher on its 2011 Minor League All-Star Team, noting that he "stands well above the field". MLB.com ranked him the No. 93 prospect in Major League Baseball.
Entering the 2012 season he was the No. 9 prospect in the Red Sox system according to Baseball America. In 2012, he was the International League All Star starting catcher, and also a post-season IL All-Star. In 2013, he threw out 18 of 45 attempted base stealers (40.0%), the 4th-best percentage among International League catchers. Through 2014, Lavarnway over his minor league career averaged 31% caught stealing over seven seasons. In 2014 with Pawtucket, Lavarnway led the team to the International League title, and was voted MVP of the IL series after batting 10-for-22.
Pawtucket hitting coach Chili Davis said of Lavarnway: "The discipline he shows up there [at bat] is big-league discipline. The kid can hit." Manager Arnie Beyeler observed: "The way he's hit the ball, it looks like he's playing tee-ball out there." Former major leaguer Ken Ryan compared him to Mike Lieberthal, whose offensive ability was far ahead of his catching ability when he first made it to the major leagues, but who over time established himself as a defensive catcher as well.
Through 2014, Lavarnway had hit .283/.375/.479 in the minor leagues.
Major league career
Boston Red Sox (2011–14)
On August 18, 2011, Lavarnway was called up to the Red Sox. He filled the roster spot of Kevin Youkilis, who went on the disabled list. Since Lavarnway was born, the only other Yale alumni to have played in the majors have been pitchers Ron Darling (1983–95) and Craig Breslow (2005–present).
On September 27, with both Jason Varitek and Jarrod Saltalamacchia injured, Lavarnway started for the Red Sox and hit his first two major league home runs with 4 RBI in a key 8–7 victory over the Baltimore Orioles. Lavarnway became the first Red Sox player to homer in his first start at catcher since Danny Sheaffer in 1987, and the youngest to have a multi-home run game since Nomar Garciaparra did it at precisely the same age (24 years, 51 days) in 1997.
On March 27, 2013, the Red Sox optioned Lavarnway to Pawtucket. Manager John Farrell said: "Right now he needs 'everyday' at-bats." Commenting on Lavarnway having been timed at 1.9 seconds throwing out a runner trying to steal second, Farrell said: "More than acceptable at the big league level." Lavarnway was recalled to Boston on April 25 and optioned back on April 28 to make room for John Lackey without making an appearance. Larvarnway was called up for a third time on May 12 after David Ross was placed on the 7-day disabled list for a concussion. Lavarnway was optioned May 24.
He was called up again on June 18, 2013 after Ross was placed on the 7-day disabled list for a concussion. On August 6, while catching knuckleballer Steve Wright in his first major league start, Lavarnway tied a Major League record with four passed balls in one inning. The record was set by Ray Katt of the New York Giants in 1954, catching knuckleballer Hoyt Wilhelm, and tied by Gino Petralli of the Texas Rangers in 1987, catching knuckleballer Charlie Hough. Overall in 2013, he batted .299 in 25 regular season games.
In the Spring of 2014 Lavarnway was tutored to play first base by infield instructor Brian Butterfield, and was found to be adequate at the position. Lavarnway started the 2014 season in Pawtucket, where he batted .265 with two home runs and 11 RBI in 44 games. He was recalled to Boston on May 26, and started at first base for the first time in the major leagues on May 29 against the Atlanta Braves.
However, he left the game early with left wrist soreness, and was placed on the 15-day disabled list the next day after an MRI revealed a broken hamate bone in the wrist. He had surgery to remove the hamate bone from his left wrist at the Cleveland Clinic on June 4, and began a rehab assignment on July 21. He was designated for assignment on November 25, 2014.
Baltimore Orioles (2015)
The Los Angeles Dodgers claimed Lavarnway off waivers on December 5, 2014. Lavarnway was out of options, and therefore could not be sent to the minor leagues without first clearing waivers. However, he was designated for assignment five days later, to make room on the team's roster. Lavarnway was then claimed off waivers by the Chicago Cubs on December 19, 2014. Four days later, however, the Cubs also put him on waivers.
Lavarnway changed teams again on December 23, when the Baltimore Orioles – his fourth team in 18 days – claimed him off waivers from the Cubs. Lavarnway was again designated for assignment on January 9. He began the 2015 season on the Orioles' opening day roster. After appearing in only ten games, he was designated for assignment on May 26. Manager Buck Showalter said: "I just don't think Ryan's swing and the things that he's capable of doing are conducive to playing once a week," and indicated that he hoped Lavarnway would accept a Norfolk roster position. Instead, Lavarnway opted to become a free agent.
Atlanta Braves (2015–present)
On May 30, 2015, Lavarnway signed a minor league contract with the Atlanta Braves. Playing for Triple-A Gwinnett, in 49 plate appearances he batted .268/.388/.463 with two home runs and 8 RBIs, and was lauded for his handling of the pitchers. He was called up to the majors on June 15 to replace the struggling Christian Bethancourt.
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