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Why the Sox aren’t yet considering a call-up for Ryan Lavarnway

07.20.11 at 2:06 pm ET
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BALTIMORE — There is no denying what Ryan Lavarnway has done offensively this year. His stats are beginning to look freakish.

Between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket, Lavarnway has a .322 average, .396 OBP, .602 slugging mark and .998 OPS with 25 homers and 69 RBI in 87 games. He has been even more outrageous since his midseason promotion to Triple-A, hitting .388/.460/.760/1.220 with 11 homers and 23 extra-base hits in 32 games.

In short, Lavarnway — who led Division 1 with a .467 average and .873 slugging percentage as a sophomore at Yale — has been enjoying one of the best offensive seasons of anyone in the minors this year.

And yet, it would not appear that he has positioned himself for an imminent call-up.

It is virtually a foregone conclusion that he will be called up in September (when major league rosters expand from 25 to 40, and just a couple months in advance of when the Sox would have to place him on their 40-man roster in order to protect Lavarnway from the Rule 5 draft). But Sox manager Terry Francona said that, as impressive as Lavarnway’s offense has been, the opportunity for him to get regular work behind the plate in the minors is too significant for him to be squarely on his radar.

‘€œI know he’€™s been raking,” said Francona. “[But] the catching part’€¦, he’€™s gotten pushed already. Obviously offensively he’€™s doing great. [But] I probably don’€™t look as much when I figure a guy’€™s there to play as opposed to come help us.”

An injury could change that. According to team sources, Lavarnway’s offense is sufficiently advanced and his defense has shown enough improvement that the Sox would feel comfortable calling him up.

And team officials insist that Lavarnway’s defense has improved to the point where he can be a major league catcher, at least in some capacity — whether as a backup catcher/DH or, if he continues to advance, perhaps more than that.

Even so, Lavarnway has just 171 games behind the plate in his minor league career, as he’s typically split time between the catcher and DH positions. That is in part by design, since the Sox like to have their minor league catchers do drill work to improve mechanics and fundamentals on days when they are not starting behind the plate. That said, while Lavarnway has some solid indicators of improving defensive work (a 35 percent caught stealing rate, for instance, and just one error all year), he is still learning to call the game and to get a feel for what how to use a pitcher’s repertoire in a way that maximizes his comfort level.

That is in part simply a matter of repetition and game experience, something that Lavarnway is best suited to gain right now in Triple-A. Nonetheless, his offense will eventually clear a path for him to the majors — likely by September, if not sooner.

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