Catcher Lavarnway getting work at first base
While he's not considering a position switch, 26-year-old would like to be more versatile
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Spring Training complex had pretty much cleared out for the Red Sox by late Friday morning, but there was some activity on one of the fields.
Ryan Lavarnway, a catcher up to this point in his professional development, was continuing the quest of expanding his horizons. There he stood with a first baseman's mitt, working for quite a long time with infield instructor Brian Butterfield.
This is a crucial year for Lavarnway, in that it is the last season he has Minor League options. Time is growing shorter for the right-handed hitter to prove he can not only be in the Major Leagues, but stay there.
Learning another position can only increase his value, even though Mike Napoli is slated to start at first for Boston for the next two seasons.
"As you can see, everybody has gone for a half an hour, and I'm the last one here," said the 26-year-old Lavarnway "But it's great, and I love being the last one here. 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."
This has gone on all week and should continue for much of Spring Training, which has a more formal start on Saturday, when pitchers and catchers are due to report.
"I think it'll be a great opportunity for me," Lavarnway said. "I'm really looking forward to continuing to learn, and there's no saying how valuable it can be."
Before long, perhaps it will feel natural.
"The first couple days, it was pretty foreign," said Lavarnway. "It's coming along, definitely. [Butterfield] is a really good teacher. He knows how far he can push you, and it increases with each day."
It is an evolving process, one that Daniel Nava, who is primarily an outfielder, perhaps made look too easy last spring. Under the watch of Butterfield, Nava almost instantly gained enough comfort at first base that manager John Farrell didn't hesitate playing him there last season.
"Watching how Nava learned the position pretty much just in Spring Training really gave me the idea that I could do that as well," Lavarnway said. "I don't think he played over there either, and he got seven to 10 games during the regular season at first base. If anyone can teach me, it's Brian Butterfield."
After spending the first few days working mostly on fielding and taking throws, Lavarnway spent time on Friday throwing base to base.
"That was a little more natural because throwing to second base is kind of the same footwork as a back pick," Lavarnway said. "And going to the backhand and throwing is kind of the same footwork as the throwing to third. So that kind of translated well. When I'm on the base receiving picks the scoops are similar to the short hops that the pitcher throws. So there are some things that translate for sure and some things that are new."
This isn't to say Lavarnway is trading in his catcher's mitt.
"Yeah, I'm definitely a catcher first," Lavarnway said. "Especially now, I'm not much of a first baseman at all. It still sounds weird when people say catcher-first baseman because I obviously haven't played a game over there. That'll be the first real test for me. I went through all the 'pens, did my drills and then went over and got some first base after the day was over, and that's the way it'll stay for now."
The reason Lavarnway was such an enticing prospect to begin with was his bat, which packed considerable wallop. That was never more evident than in Game No. 161 of the 2011 season, when Lavarnway clubbed two home runs in Baltimore to keep Boston's postseason hopes alive.
However, in the 235 Major League at-bats that have followed, Lavarnway has hit just three more homers. He only went deep three times for Triple-A Pawtucket last season.
Lavarnway will try to get some of his hitting prowess back by using a shorter bat this season.
"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," Lavarnway said. "There's no point to have that long of a bat if you're not using the end of it."