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SoxProspects News

March 2, 2011 at 12:26 PM

2011 Prospect Previews: Ryan Lavarnway and Junichi Tazawa

Today's edition of the Prospects Previews series features one prospect showing he's on an upward trend towards reaching the major leagues in the near future and another working to regain his form after an injury setback in 2010.

Ryan Lavarnway
Position: Catcher
2010 Team: Portland Sea Dogs
2011 Projected Team: Portland Sea Dogs
Opening Day Age: 23

Strengths: Advanced offensively, Lavarnway has emerged as one of the top hitting prospects within the Red Sox organization, showing the knack for being able to make consistent hard contact at every stop thus far in his career. Hitting out of a closed and crouched stance, he attacks pitches with high confidence due to his honed understanding of the strike zone and patient approach when working counts. With a shorter swing, Lavarnway generates the type of batspeed able to handle high velocity offerings and is extremely dangerous when able to extend on fastballs out over the plate, often driving them with authority up the middle and to the opposite field. An early need for him when entering the system, he’s been able to close up his hole on the inner third of the plate and turn on pitches with much more frequency to enhance his pull power. Possessing exceptional strength and fluidity with using his lower body to generate power, Lavarnway profiles to hit for plus power as he continues to put the finishing touches on his overall game within the upper levels of the minors. Showing the ability to shorten his swing down and not try to do too much when hitting with two strikes, he’s been able to adjust well to the more advanced pitching he has seen since entering Double-A. A tireless worker and dedicated to improving his craft, Lavarnway has developed the reputation as a player who is committed to putting the work in to push himself to the highest level and get every ounce out of his talent.

Development Needs: While showing great strides with improving his defensive game behind the dish, Lavarnway still has a lot of work to go in rounding out towards an average defensive catcher down the line. On the stiff and rigid side, he’s not overly smooth when going after balls and shows limited range from side to side. His margin of error with handling pitchers is reduced and due to his overall inexperience catching his reactions are still behind the curve. With an average arm, he’s very dependent on his throwing mechanics, which has been an area he has made the most improvement with since signing with the organization. Presently, Lavarnway’s ultimate defensive ceiling as a catcher is around an average defender at the major league level and he’ll need to make a strong push to fulfill that projection in the next couple of seasons. Much of whether Lavarnway can crack a lineup as a full-time starter rests in how much more defensive progression he can make and show he can overcome his limitations behind the plate. Possessing excellent pitch recognition, his finishing work offensively lies with improving how he handles off-speed pitches and lying off advanced breaking balls that sweep down and across the plate. Further work with tightening up against those offerings should allow Lavarnway to produce enough contact and make him that much tougher for opposing pitchers to work against.

2011 Outlook: A non-roster invitee in Spring Training with the big league team, Lavarnway’s main focus in the spring will be centered on his continued work to improve defensively. Once returning to minor league camp, an assignment back with Portland looks likely to allow him to continue polishing his overall game and prove that he’s completely mastered the level. After showing that he was very comfortable in the Eastern League in 2010, Lavarnway should pick up where he left off and produce very strong offensive numbers as the season gets going. Added consistency and limiting his streakiness will be an excellent sign that he is making progress with putting the final touches on his offensive package. With everything going as planned, Lavarnway has a high chance to begin contending for a promotion to the Triple-A as the summer starts to heat up. At some point this season, it will be tough to hold his bat back and he’ll need the test against International League pitching to continue pushing his offensive skills. Whether his defensive skills are ready remains a big question, but an assignment with Pawtucket during the season is a good tell that they have been progressing. 2011 should prove to be an intriguing season to follow Lavarnway and if the trends remain in the same direction, he can show that he's not too far off in the horizon from helping the major league team in some capacity as early as this season.

Junichi Tazawa
Position: Starting Pitcher
2010 Team: Injured
2011 Projected Team: Rehab/Pawtucket Red Sox
Opening Day Age: 24

Strengths: Making a smooth transition to professional baseball in the United States after coming over from Japan in 2009, Tazawa saw himself rise from Double-A to the major leagues in his first season with the organization. Featuring an advanced repertoire that he has excellent feel and solid command of, he mixes all of his offerings into sequences well and constantly changes up his patterns to keep opposing hitters off balance. Working everything off his 88-92 MPH fastball, Tazawa has no trouble locating on both sides of the plate with good command and can occasionally reach back to grab a little bit more with his heater in situations that dictate the need. After showing batters his fastball and attacking the zone to get ahead, he can lean on an assortment of secondary pitches to finish hitter’s off, highlighted by his mid-70s curveball and plus low-80s split-change, with late bottom-dropping action. Tazawa creates excellent arm speed when throwing his split-change and with more use of the offering it can evolve into a consistent out-pitch for him as he continues his development. From time to time, he’ll also throw a high 70’s backdoor slider to change the look from his curve, which he leans on more to create outs presently.

Development Needs: Seemingly in the mix for a contributing role at the major league level heading into 2010, Tazawa suffered a big setback and ended up undergoing Tommy John Surgery early in Spring Training. With his efforts now focused on rehabbing from the injury, he missed key developmental time this past season and is still coming back up to speed in making his return to the mound. Due to the nature of the injury and the time it takes for pitchers to regain the feel of their entire arsenal, it remains to be seen what type of effect there will be on the overall crispness of his repertoire. His ability to effectively snap off his secondary offerings and regain the command of his fastball will be important factors in the early comeback. As a pitcher that was going to have to rely on pinpoint fastball command at the major league level, it will take Tazawa time to build back the level of command that will make him successful against advanced hitters. Given his age and questions surrounding what type of role he would be most effective in at the big league level to begin with, a conversion to a full-time reliever is a strong possibility as he becomes furthered removed from surgery. Once overcoming the health obstacles in front of him and returning to full strength, Tazawa’s main focus will be on rounding out his arsenal further, with the key need lying in an improvement with how he spots his fastball down in the zone. He does not possess the type of velocity to consistently live up in the strike zone and can be hit hard when he has to rely too much on his fastball.

2011 Outlook: Participating in Spring Training and throwing off the mound, Tazawa’s main goal during the spring is to continue to build arm strength and progress towards being ready for game action. He will most likely be eased back into things in controlled outings, with an assignment in the lower minors a possibility to begin his ascent back up towards the upper minors. As he continues to make strides and his stuff starts to return to previous form, Tazawa should eventually end up at Triple-A with the chance to prove he’s trending back towards being in the mix to contribute at the major league level in the second half of the season. The near-term goals center on first showing he is healthy and ready to be further extended, with then the focus shifting to putting the finishing touches on what was already an advanced arsenal capable of consistently getting upper level hitters out prior to his injury. Signs have pointed to Tazawa making good strides with returning to full health in 2011 and with continued progress over the course of the season he can offer the major league team another arm ready to contribute, most likely in the bullpen.