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March 5, 2010 at 7:50 AM

2010 Prospect Previews: Mark Wagner and Ryan Lavarnway

This installment of the series takes a look at two catchers within the Red Sox system. Over the last couple of seasons catcher has become a position of strength for the organization and these two players will look in 2010 to solidify themselves as significant pieces of the wave pushing towards the major leagues.

Mark Wagner

Position: Catcher
2009 Teams: Portland Sea Dogs/Pawtucket Red Sox
2010 Projected Team: Pawtucket Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 25

Strengths: After a tough 2008 season adjusting to Double-A pitching, Wagner bounced back in 2009 to put together a strong season with Portland and earn a promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket. More relaxed at the plate, he showed good improvement with his approach and worked counts to produce excellent contact, and exhibited the gap power that he had showed in the low minors previously. He stayed on the ball well and drove balls from gap to gap. With a compact swing, Wagner is a patient hitter that work counts and looks for pitches that he can handle. Possessing good pitch recognition, he’s able to lay off tough off-speed pitches, covers the plate well, and takes what pitchers give to him. After falling into the mode of a pull hitter in 2008, he got back to hitting to all fields and staying within his skill set in the batter’s box in 2009. Behind the dish, Wagner excels at throwing runners out, showing a very smooth and quick release to compliment his solid-average arm strength. He made good strides refining the finer points of his position and projects as an above-average receiver at the major league level. An extremely hard worker, Wagner put in a lot of time into his craft and the work showed in 2009, enabling his strong leadership skills and game calling ability to mesh better with the pitchers that he works with.

Development Needs: Wagner’s approach regressed after his promotion to Triple-A, which lead to a dip in the amount of solid contact he made. Challenged by the advanced pitching at this level, he’s going to have to make adjustments at the plate, especially with dictating at-bats and not letting pitchers consistently work him into unfavorable counts. Players generally go through an adjustment period after being promoted, and Wagner looked to become too aggressive at the plate, falling back into some of the bad habits he showed in 2008. His key needs center around his offensive game and whether he is going to be able to make consistent solid contact at the highest levels. A streaky hitter, Wagner can fall into prolonged stretches where his mechanics at the plate are out of whack. Trusting his approach and staying within himself will go a long way towards limiting these stretches. A solid defensive player, he could use some work on handling pitches better and bearing down on balls in the dirt to keep them from bouncing too far away from him.

2010 Outlook: Wagner is currently in big league camp with the Red Sox as a member of the 40-man roster. He’s going to have the chance to showcase his skills and work with the major league pitching staff on a daily basis before being assigned to Pawtucket to start the season. Look for him to get back to his patient approach at the plate and hit from gap to gap at the Triple-A level in 2010. Wagner has shown that he can make adjustments during his minor league career and he has the skills to be a solid-average hitter at the major league level. Continued work on how he handles a pitching staff and controlling tough pitches in the dirt will show that he’s going to be a very capable defender as well. Wagner projects as a solid big league back-up catcher that can chip in with the bat in the bottom of a deep lineup. With a season of putting the finishing touches on his game, he’ll provide the Red Sox with added depth at the catching position in 2010 should the opportunity present itself, and put himself into position to be strongly considered for a 25-man roster spot heading into the 2011 campaign.

Ryan Lavarnway

Position: Catcher
2009 Teams: Greenville Drive
2010 Projected Team: Greenville Drive/ Salem Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 22

Strengths: This big right-handed batter features plus power and solid plate discipline. Spending the 2009 season with the Greenville Drive, Lavarnway showed good home run power and drove balls at a consistent rate to all fields. Hitting from a crouch and uncoiling on the ball, his generates his best power when he can gets his arms extended through the strike zone and takes advantage of balls out and over the plate. He makes pitchers pay when they make mistakes. Lavarnway launches majestic fly balls and lifts the ball well, following through high up on his back. He possesses a well–filled-out frame and is an extremely strong player. Known for his patient approach and pitch recognition prior to entering the Red Sox organization, he continued to show these traits in 2009 and was able to have a lot of success managing counts to pick out pitches he could handle. An improving catcher, Lavarnway has soft hands behind the plate and shows average to slightly above-average arm strength. Relatively new to catching, he is still learning the ins and outs of the position, while honing his skills with more and more repetitions behind the dish.

Development Needs: Lavarnway was relatively unchallenged in A-Ball and showed he was advanced past the competition with the bat. He needs to have his approach challenged by more advanced pitching, but his defense currently holds him back, with the Red Sox committed to developing him as a catcher in the near future. While putting in a lot of work towards his craft, Lavarnway’s skills are behind for a professional catcher at this point in his development, and he shows average at best defensive projection behind the dish. His release with his throws is slow, and he needs work with blocking balls and improving his overall reactions as a catcher. He has potential to improve upon these needs, but Lavarnway looks like he is going to end up being better suited for first base, which is going to put more of an emphasis on his offensive potential and production at higher levels within the organization. He can strike out too much, and this trend is something that will be watched closely as he progresses up the ranks to face better pitching that is more in line with the level of his hitting.

2010 Outlook: After the season that Lavarnway had at the plate with Greenville, it would be hard to imagine him heading back to that level, but with fellow catching prospect Tim Federowicz ticketed to play every day behind the plate with Salem, he could end up back there to continue his work at the position. His results in spring training will lend a better idea of where he’ll end up, and Lavarnway still has a good chance to end up with Salem as the organization finds a way to get players their work at levels they feel they are ready for. Look for Lavarnway to continue to demonstrate his excellent power in the low minors in 2010. His advanced approach and pitch recognition will allow him to have success with the pitching at either level. Cutting down some on his strikeouts will be a good sign that he’s fine tuned his swing and show that he’s going to have the potential to continue to hit for power as he reaches the upper levels of the system. 2010 is an interesting year for Lavarnway as he proved himself with his bat with Greenville in 2009. He could possibly see more time at first base, but the organization will want to keep giving him a chance as a catcher in 2010. A full-time move off the position is most likely a year away should he not make enough strides this season. An offensive threat, this coming season for Lavarnway will have a strong focus on improving his defensive to prove he can continue behind the plate.