Now or Never for Boston Red Sox’ Ryan Lavarnway

Ryan Lavarnway Boston Red Sox

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As the start of spring training nears, Boston Red Sox catcher Ryan Lavarnway will once again be in the position of having to prove himself. With the ever-expanding Red Sox roster, the team’s former top prospect will have his hands full trying to hold onto his spot with the big league club. The addition of free agent David Ross over the winter means that Lavarnway has already lost his job as starting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s backup. Now, with an abundance of DH-type players on the roster, the time may be now or never for Lavarnway to make his case.

Lavarnway has shined in the minor leagues, getting called up to Boston during each of the last two seasons, but he’s failed to perform thus far in the majors. In 192 MLB at-bats, he’s hit just .172, slugged only .286, and chipped in a paltry four home runs. That’s a far cry from his minor league career, where he’s never hit under .285 in his four full seasons dating back to 2009, while amassing 85 homers.

The Red Sox have always envisioned Lavarnway as a future DH/1B, so his poor defensive effort in 2012 isn’t much of a setback, but the team expected far more from the slugger at the plate.  With his imposing power, Lavarnway has a chance to be the heir apparent to aging DH David Ortiz. His OPS of .882 in the minors and his rate of homering every 20 at-bats helped make him a Baseball America all-star in 2011, when he was named the International League number one prospect.

But those accolades are in the past. Lavarnway needs to concentrate on his future, and 2013 will be a pivotal year. He’s impressed at every level in the minor leagues, but his struggles in the big leagues to date are concerning.  The right-hander, who will turn 26 in August, is running out of time to show the Red Sox that he can contribute at baseball’s top level.

The Red Sox will likely carry 11 pitchers coming out of spring training, meaning that Lavarnway will be battling for one of the five spots on the bench. Barring injury, Ross, outfielder Daniel Nava, and infielder Pedro Ciriaco will fill three of those spots. So as of now, Lavarnway will have to compete with Lyle Overbay, Ryan Sweeney, Mauro Gomez, and Mark Hamilton for one of the final two spots. This, of course, will all change if GM Ben Cherington decides to add another bat to the mix, which is by no means out of the question.

(JM Catellier is the author of Fixing Baseball, a guide to restructuring the Hall of Fame. Follow him on Twitter: @FixingBaseball and Facebook, and check out his site: www.fixingbaseball.com)

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