The shin guards, chest protector, helmet with mask, and heavily padded mitt are all that keep 90+ mile per hour offerings, barely nicked and re-directed by a Louisville Slugger, from putting a figurative hole through a catcher's body. Eleven time All-Star New York Yankee backstop Bill Dickey is credited with naming this particular set of equipment the "tools of ignorance".
However when you consider the background of the Pawtucket Red Sox newest receiver Ryan Lavarnway, the ultimate word in that phrase may be better off left up to interpretation. Especially for a guy that can in detail describe to you the difference between Aristotle, Machiavelli, and Nietzsche. If you thought those three guys were the top three in the starting rotation for the Seattle Mariners in 1979, you've got some reading to do.
The "tools" were not always in the repertoire of the Woodland Hills, CA native as he spent the majority of his freshman year patrolling right field for the Bulldogs at Yale Field in New Haven, CT. That season he hit a fairly modest .281 while bashing 6 home runs (tied for the team lead) and driving in 25 base runners (tied for fourth). He was just getting started.
Strange as it sounds, it may have actually taken giving Lavarnway something extra to think about for him to blossom offensively. Remember the Mariners guys from earlier? Those all happen to be the names of philosophers whom Lavarnway studied at Yale while heading towards a degree in Philosophy (some of his other favorite subjects included economics and physics).
With the added responsibility of maintaining a pitching staff, the sophomore made 30 starts behind the dish for the Bulldogs in 2007 and racked up Yale records for batting average (.467), slugging percentage (.873), home runs (14), hits (70), doubles (17), RBI (55), and total bases (131). The batting average and slugging percentage totals led the nation. His final collegiate season was only slightly less impressive (.398 avg., 13 HR, 42 RBI), but then again, how does one top hitting .467?
After three dominant seasons at Yale University, Ryan Lavarnway was drafted in the sixth round of the 2008 Amateur Entry draft by the Boston Red Sox, 202nd overall. His first stint as a professional was with the Lowell Spinners where he accumulated just 71 at-bats and a .211 average. He followed up with a big year at Single-A Greenville belting 21 long balls and driving in 87 runs in 106 games earning a spot on the Carolina League post season All-Star team. The following year Lavarnway split time between the Single-A Salem Red Sox and the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs while continuing to absolutely rake slugging a mighty .490 between the two clubs. Before being called up to Triple-A Pawtucket this season, he had amassed 14 HR in just 55 games with Portland.
June 13th, 2011 was not the first time Lavarnway had been in the home clubhouse at McCoy Stadium following his promotion that day from Portland. He joined his current manager Arnie Beyeler, battery mate Jason Rice, and a few other members of the Red Sox organization to meet and greet fans in January at the Pawtucket Red Sox Hot Stove Luncheon. This time however, his name wouldn't be removed from a locker quite so soon. Getting comfortable very quickly, Ryan pounded two doubles in his PawSox debut at the plate and hasn't looked back since.
At the International League All-Star break his 7 HR tied him for third on the team. His average and slugging percentage since joining the PawSox have been tops on the team not including rehabbing members of the Boston Red Sox Marco Scutaro, Carl Crawford and Darnell McDonald. His on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, or OPS, is a seemingly Major League ready 1.084 as of mid-July. By comparison, the next closest PawSox is OF Daniel Nava at .733.
Lavarnway's bat was never in question. It was his defensive skills and the ability to call an efficient game which had been tabbed a question mark early on in his development. In fact SoxProspects has already taken the liberty of labeling him as a C/DH under his positional tab.
To that type of detraction one could point out Kevin Millwood's start on June 18th when the veteran right hander turned back the clock with seven and two thirds innings of one run, four hit baseball setting down six by way of the K. That was followed five days later with a seven strikeout, two run outing for the former Cy-Young candidate and MLB All-Star with Lavarnway as his receiver. Ryan was penned to be the designated hitter in Millwood's following start when he surrendered six earned runs in four innings. Coincidence, or are these those 'improvements' beginning to show through in year three?
Human baseball encyclopedia, current NESN and MLB Network analyst Peter Gammons commented on a recent Red Sox pre-game show on NESN that Lavarnway had "injected himself" into the Boston future catching conversation and why not? This season he has shown ability to handle veteran pitching and confirmed an offensive track record he has accumulated by mashing virtually every diamond he's ever played on. He has the chance to provide offensive numbers that Boston has not had at that position since the hay-day of the Captain Jason Varitek who is in the waning years of a prestigious career. And not for nothing, but even being painted as a DH type in an American League organization isn't the worst thing in the world; just ask David Ortiz.