Due to a back injury to veteran Kevin Youkilis, the Boston Red Sox club has promoted catcher/designated hitter Ryan Lavarnway to the Major Leagues. He made his debut Thursday night against the Kansas City Royals and went 0-for-4 with a strikeout. Lavarnway, 24, is not going to step into the Red Sox lineup and immediate produce at the star level that Youkilis has (4.1 WAR in ’11), but he should be slightly-above replacement level in the short term.
I’ve been eagerly anticipating Lavarnway’s arrival in the Majors. Out of the five pre-season Top 10 prospect lists for Boston [Baseball America, Kevin Goldstein, Keith Law, John Sickels], the scribe from minorleagueball.com and I were the only ones to place him on the Boston lists (Law earns mega points, though, for placing both Will Middlebrooks and Xander Bogaerts on his list).
After slugging 20+ home runs in both ’09 and ’10, Lavarnway has stepped out in an even bigger way in ’11 with 30 home runs split between double-A and triple-A. At the senior level, the Yale grad has a triple-slash line of .301/.385/.608 and an eye-popping ISO of .309 in 209 at-bats. The slow-footed catcher likely won’t post a .338 BABIP in the Majors, though, which has helped boost his overall numbers. Lavarnway strikes out a lot (23% in AAA) but you can live with those numbers as long as the power output is also there. On the plus side, he also takes more than his fair share of walks – albeit less often than the Greek God of Walks – with double-digit walk rates throughout his pro career.
The prospect’s weakness – defense – has been well documented by prospect analysts. Since allowing 26 passed balls in 66 games at low-A Greenville in 2009 Lavarnway has made strides behind the plate, but it’s still hard to find a scout that thinks he’ll wear the tools of ignorance at the MLB level on a full-time basis. He throws out a decent number of runners (approximately 35% over the past two seasons) but his receiving skills are still rudimentary and the 6’4” player doesn’t move around or block pitches well.
Although he’s probably not going to perform at the rate of a middle-of-the-order basher on a playoff-bound team right from the get-go, Lavarnway’s graduation to the Majors should be seen as the beginning of a solid MLB career. His ultimate defensive home will likely end up at first base or designated hitter, but he may also continue to see the odd start behind home plate as a team’s third-string catcher.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.