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Ryan Lavarnway embraces spring of change

02.14.14 at 5:00 pm ET
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Ryan Lavarnway is using a new bat this year. (AP)

Ryan Lavarnway is using a new bat this year. (AP)

FORT MYERS, Fla. — For Ryan Lavarnway, change isn’t just limited to a new position.

While the 26-year-old is getting a tutorial at first base from Red Sox third base coach and infield instructor Brian Butterfield, he’s also wielding a modified weapon in the batter’s box in hopes of reclaiming some of his offensive prowess. In 2011, Lavarnway emerged as one of the Sox’ top prospects based on the potential power he could bring to a position (catcher) where offense is a scarce and hence valued commodity. He slammed 34 homers between Double-A, Triple-A and the big leagues, suggesting a future middle-of-the-order bat who could handle the responsibilities of catching.

But over the 2012 and 2013 seasons, he hit just 14 homers while shuttling between Triple-A and the majors in the two combined seasons. Though he still showed the ability to hit for average and get on base in Triple-A (in both 2012 and 2013) and the big leagues (in 2013 after struggling at that level in 2012), he saw his slugging percentage plummet in the minors from .563 in 2011 to .439 in 2012 to .350 in 2013.

While his ability to add first base to his resume could open pathways to the big leagues, that facet of his game pales in significance next to his ability to restore his status as a power hitting prospect. Mindful of that, Lavarnway has changed his lumber for this spring.

“I got a different size bat I’€™m going to try it out and I got a new little trigger with my hands that I’€™m testing it on. I’€™m really excited about it. It’€™s been going really well so far so hopefully it continues. It’€™s a half inch shorter and half inch heavier. It’€™s heavier and it’€™s shorter so it feels lighter but there’€™s more wood behind it,” said Lavarnway. “Just looking at where my ball marks on the bat were last year and it looked like I wasn’€™t really using the end of it, so I didn’€™t really need it. There’€™s no point to have that long of a bat if you’€™re not using the end of it.”

As for his work at first base, Lavarnway — who has spent his entire professional career behind the plate — said that Butterfield has been working with him since Monday. In a short period of time, he’s seen improvement.

“The first couple days was pretty foreign. It’€™s coming along, definitely. Butter is a really good teacher. He knows how far he can push you and it increases with each day,” said Lavarnway, who said that he has been borrowing a first baseman’s mitt thus far this spring. “I think it’€™ll be a great opportunity for me. I’€™m really looking forward to continuing to learn and there’€™s no saying how valuable it can be.”

Of course, Lavarnway’s work at first base comes on top of an already full slate of activities. He continues to develop his catching skills (“I’m definitely a catcher first,” said Lavarnway) while also hitting. The net result was that Lavarnway was the last player on the field on Friday so that he could take advantage of a private tutorial from Butterfield, but for the 2008 fifth-rounder — who invested enormous time in developing his defensive skills behind the plate — the extra work is welcome.

“I’€™m the last one here. But it’€™s great and I love being the last one here,” said Lavarnway. “I have a thirst for learning new positions and making myself a more well-rounded player. I’€™m enjoying it and I’€™m excited for the opportunity.”

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