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SoxProspects News

February 18, 2009 at 7:40 AM

2009 Prospect Previews: Brock Huntzinger and Ryan Lavarnway

The fifth installment of the Prospect Previews series features a young right-handed starting pitcher looking to take the next step in full-season baseball, and a 2008 draft pick set to take on more of a workload behind the plate.

Brock Huntzinger

2008 Teams: Lowell Spinners and Greenville Drive
2009 Projected Team: Greenville Drive

Strengths: Huntzinger has a very free and easy over-the-top delivery, and the ball suddenly jumps out of his uniform at hitters. The Red Sox worked extensively with him to re-work his delivery in Extended Spring Training in 2008, and the results were successful for him at Lowell. Huntzinger’s fastball jumps on hitters despite sitting only 89-91 MPH with the ability to hit 93 MPH so far as a professional. NYPL Batters were consistently behind his fastball, either swinging through it or fouling the pitch back. He demonstrated good command of the pitch at Lowell, placing it on the black and keeping it out of the middle of the plate to limit damage against him. He was also able to successfully pound the lower part of the zone with his fastball and set batters up for his slider. Huntzinger’s slider is a strong pitch for him when it is down in the zone and one that hitters will chase when behind in the count. The tight, late break on the pitch allows it to quickly dart out of the hitters’ line of sight after they have committed to the swing, thinking it is a strike. A hard worker, Huntzinger has a passion for the game of baseball and made the most of his time back in Florida before breaking camp for the start of short-season play.

Development Needs: After re-working his delivery in 2008, Huntzinger experienced a drop in his fastball velocity. Clocked by the Red Sox at 95 MPH in High School, Huntzinger only touched 93 MPH a couple of times in his outings and worked more in the 90 MPH range throughout his starts. Despite his deceptive delivery, he can be hit up much easier up in the zone without the extra life on his fastball. Red Sox officials feel confident that he’ll find the extra velocity in the future, but the lack of life on his fastball gave him a hard time after his promotion to Greenville; working behind in the count and leaving the ball up in the zone far too often, Huntzinger was touched for twelve home runs in only 26 2/3 innings. This highlights the need for him to keep the ball down while he becomes more comfortable with his new arm slot and delivery. His slider becomes less of a factor when it is up in the zone as well, as it flattens out and becomes more of a slurve. Huntzinger will need to be more consistent with this pitch and improve how he finishes through it. Lacking a change-up upon entering the system, this pitch has improved steadily for him to where he can work it into counts, but it is still a little ways from being an effective fixture in his arsenal. Huntzinger currently lacks a consistent out pitch and has to pitch to contact, but his repertoire is improving at a good rate.

2009 Outlook: Huntzinger will start with the Greenville Drive in their starting rotation. The big right-handed starter should have a better feel for how he is going to have to attack hitters after last season’s promotion to the SAL. Look for Huntzinger to be successful if he is able to keep all of pitches down in the zone. He’ll have to change the eye level of hitters, but he won’t be able to live up in the zone at this level while he is finding the range on his fastball. One of the main things to watch for is the development Huntzinger sees on his change-up. This pitch made some good strides in 2008, after he only started to throw it after signing with the Red Sox. An effective change-up will give him three pitches in his arsenal and allow him to mix it up to hitters multiple times through the lineup. The development of this pitch will be a good indicator as to whether he’ll end up in the rotation or bullpen down the line in his career. Another key to watch for is the improvement of his fastball velocity and if it ends up back in the mid-90’s as it was before he reworked his delivery. An uptick in velocity would make his fastball that much more effective given how deceptive his release point is.

Ryan Lavarnway

2008 Team: Lowell Spinners
2009 Projected Team: Greenville Drive

Strengths: A big and strong player, Lavarnway stands 6’4’’ and 225 pounds, with excellent present power and power potential. The ball comes off his bat as majestic fly balls when he steps into a pitch. With outstanding plate discipline entering the system, he makes very good contact and has a pretty good understanding of what pitches he can and cannot handle. Lavarnway crushes mistake pitches, especially out and over the plate where he can get his arms extended to utilize all of the power in his lower body. He shows good plate coverage, able to get the fat part of the bat on balls towards the outer third of the plate. Behind the plate, he has soft hands as a receiver and an improving arm. Lavarnway also moves well for a bigger player. Converted to a catcher in 2007 at Yale, Lavarnway hasn’t taken the beating behind the plate that other catchers have taken by his age, and he can make some good strides as he plays the position more and more.

Development Needs: Hitting from a closed and crouched stance, Lavarnway is sometimes jammed on pitches up and in where he can’t get his arms extended. The strength of his power lies in pitches out and over the plate at the moment, and he’ll need to work on cleaning inside pitches out with a shorter stroke to prevent pitchers from targeting that spot on him. Once he got behind in the count, he struggled some with breaking pitches down and away, but this should improve as he sees more professional pitching. Behind the plate, Lavarnway has a slow release when he throws the ball and his arm is only average in strength right now. His overall catching skills are unrefined, but he is still learning the ins and outs of the position. After suffering a serious wrist injury, Lavarnway missed significant time in 2008 and was about four months removed from baseball activities when he signed with the Red Sox. His overall game looked rusty as a result of the time off, but with the time to heal and focus on his areas of improvement, Lavarnway could make some strong gains quickly in his overall game.

2009 Outlook: Lavarnway should share the catching duties with
Tim Federowicz with the Greenville Drive in 2009. Watch for him to display some good power at this level after feeling his way out and getting into a groove at the plate. To be a consistent threat at the plate, one of the main areas of improvement to watch for with Lavarnway is how well he is going to attack pitches on the inner third. Improvement here will round his offensive game into form, as he already attacks pitches well in the middle of the plate. Lavarnway should be a patient hitter and work some walks as he becomes more and more comfortable with professional pitching. He’ll be deliberate in his at-bats and look to pick pitches out he can drive when ahead in the count. Another area to watch for is how Lavarnway looks behind the plate. He didn’t catch all that much after signing with the Red Sox, but he should be fully healed and ready to assume a workload this season. An improved release on the ball and a better handling of balls in the dirt would be good signs of improvement. A relative unknown at the moment, 2009 could be the year for Lavarnway where he starts to establish himself as an offensive catcher in the Red Sox organization.