Carolina League notebook

Salem's Lavarnway proving legitimate behind the plate

Salem's Ryan Lavarnway was a sixth-round pick out of Yale in 2008. (Joy R. Absalon/

By Pete Kerzel / Special to | May 19, 2010 6:00 AM

The power numbers speak to his brawn, and Ryan Lavarnway's background as a Yale philosophy student proves he can handle the cognitive aspects of a thinking man's game. Anyone too enamored with his powerful swing, however, might overlook an unmistakable transition taking place.

"The way he has turned his catching around is legitimate," said Kevin Boles, Lavarnway's manager with the Class A Advanced Salem Red Sox. "It's not that he's a legitimate bat and maybe he can catch; he's turned himself into a catching prospect."

Step one in the process: taking a break from the physical and mental rigors of the game last winter, his first following a full season since turning pro.

Lavarnway focused instead on his newly purchased residence in the San Fernando Valley outside Los Angeles. He immersed himself in yardwork, rode his bike, played tennis with friends -- anything, it seems, but baseball. And when he reported to Spring Training in Fort Myers, Fla., the 22-year-old's mind was clear and his body was fresh.

"I tried to leave last year in the past and start a new year," said Lavarnway, who opened eyes in 2009 by hitting .285 with 21 homers and 87 RBIs for Class A Greenville of the South Atlantic League.

Boles has the luxury of using Lavarnway as a part-time designated hitter while catching Tim Federowicz a couple of times a week. So far, the arrangement has kept Lavarnway fresh enough to hit .333 with seven homers and a league-leading 34 RBIs.

"He's narrowed his strike zone quite a bit. Last year, we were really impressed with his offensive approach, but he's taken it to a whole other level," Boles said. "With his defense starting to come along -- this guy is starting to catch and throw -- he's starting to light some people's eyes up. It's because of his work ethic."

That's where Lavarnway's smarts -- Descartes, Plato and Kant are as important to him as Boston-centric names like Pesky, Williams and Yastrzemski -- come in. He's used his mental acuity to improve pitch-calling and learn opposing hitters' tendencies, perfect his pitch recognition as a hitter and better anticipate what's to come.

"He views the game a little more as a chess match," said Boles, Lavarnway's skipper at Greenville in 2009. "Last year, the game got a little quick for him behind the plate. You can see the wheels starting to turn to where he's slowed the game down and he's able to [succeed]."

Just what you'd expect from an Ivy Leaguer, right? Since Lavarnway was born, the only Yale alums to play in the Majors are pitchers Ron Darling (1983-95) and Craig Breslow (2005-10). What began as higher educational ribbing of the prospect has morphed into teammates' respect.

"At first, it was, 'Here's the Yale guy,' all kind of nervous, [wondering] what's this guy all about? Now that we're all friends, it's, 'Uh-oh, he said something smart, that's a Yale comment," Lavarnway said. "I don't say on a regular basis that I want to be one of the trailblazers, no. But I'm proud to be a Yalie."

In brief

Crash test: The Red Sox have embarked on a quick turnaround construction project to resurrect a box office building that was condemned after being struck by a car in an April 11 accident, less than a week before their home opener. With work crews starting at 6:30 a.m. daily, they hope the project is completed by mid-June.

Technological upgrade: A new video board will debut at Pfitzner Stadium, home of the Potomac Nationals, on May 24. The existing scoreboard will be retrofitted with a new LED video display measuring more than 13 feet tall and 35 feet wide, giving the P-Nats the ability to show video replays for the first time. Additional information and up-to-date scores will be shown on an LED video ribbon beneath the main video display. Potomac also introduced streaming video through its Internet site.

Strong armed: Teams keep running on Wilmington right fielder Adrian Ortiz, and Ortiz keeps making them pay. He leads the Carolina League with nine outfield assists through 34 games.

Proven human: Wilmington's Patrick Keating finally allowed an inherited runner to score for the first time this season on May 15. The right-hander had stranded 10 inherited runners before the streak was halted by Tim Pahuta's two-out, seventh-inning double at Potomac.

Pete Kerzel is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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