Top catching prospects Tim Federowicz, Ryan Lavarnway refining different skills
If the Red Sox somehow could combine Tim Federowicz and Ryan Lavarnway, they’d have themselves an awfully impressive catcher.
Federowicz has long been the best defensive catcher in the Red Sox system, a catch-and-throw specialist who has a well-developed sense of how to call games. Lavarnway might have the most advanced bat of any hitter — at any position — in the Red Sox system, and his ability to hit for power is unrivaled in the system now that Anthony Rizzo has been traded away.
But the Red Sox don’t get to combine Federowicz and Lavarnway. All they can do is hope the two catchers, who likely will start the season splitting time at Double-A Portland, will push each other to get better. That work began at Single-A Salem last year, and it continued last week at the Red Sox rookie development program.
“Me and Ryan have always been great friends,” Federowicz said. “It’s good that he’s starting to do a little bit better these days. He’s definitely improved his catching. He’s good competition, and it’s great to have competition because it makes you play your best. I feel it’s going to be good for both of us to be competing at the same position.”
Said Lavarnway, “Being around Tim Federowicz and (Luis) Exposito has benefited me. Tim, especially, is a very good catcher, very talented defensively. Being around him every day helped me raise my bar. It gave me a sense of urgency. When you have guys fighting for that same big-league spot on the same team as you every single day and you’re doing your drills with them, you want to do them a little bit better.”
After a season in which he hit 22 home runs and slugged a .489 in a season split between Salem and Double-A Portland, Lavarnway emerged as the top catching prospect the Red Sox have in their system. His power and his approach at the plate — he drew 70 walks in fewer than 550 plate appearances — turned last season into a breakthrough season.
All he has to do now is refine what he can do behind the plate. He caught in Little League, but he played in the outfield in high school and in his first two seasons at Yale. It was only three years ago that he switched back to catching full-time, and he’s still catching up.
“He’s made himself into what we’ve seen today, so we feel like he’s going to continue to make himself into an even better defensive player,” Red Sox farm director Mike Hazen said. “The blocking, receiving — the technical aspects of catching certainly still need to improve, as they do with any minor-league player. As he gets into the upper levels, the game-calling, handling the pitching staff, when he gets into big-league camp, when he goes over and catches some of those big-league guys, that’s going to be a big shift for him. He’s a really smart kid, so he’ll be able to absorb all those things.”
Said Lavarnway, “My swing has always come really naturally to me, my swing is what I really focused on with my father growing up. Defensively, I didn’t really realize how far I had to come. Realizing that, seeing these guys in the major leagues, and these other catchers in the minors, made me realize how far I had go.”
Federowicz has had to deal with the opposite problem. He stalled in Salem a year ago, missing out on the promotion that went to Lavarnway because he struggled so much with the bat. He hit .240 with a .305 on-base percentage in April, and he finished the season with a .253 batting average and a .324 on-base percentage. He hit 34 doubles, but he hit just four home runs.
“We didn’t necessarily see the consistency of approach day to day,” Hazen said. “We need to see him up the middle a little bit more. He gets a little bit pull-conscious at times. That’s something we’ve worked on with him from an offensive standpoint.”
But Federowicz has been reluctant to dwell on his offensive numbers this offseason. He has preferred instead to invest the bulk of his energy into his work behind the plate and with his pitchers.
“I need to make sure I focus 100 percent on the pitcher and making sure that I get him through as many innings as he can physically get through,” he said. “That’s a big part of my game, and that’s what I strive on, being able to get those pitchers through and keeping them from letting up runs and all of the above. That’s what I really need to focus on.”