Ryan Lavarnway A Story In Persistence, Determination

Ryan Lavarnway
CINCINNATI, OH - JULY 19: Ryan Lavarnway #59 of the Cincinnati Reds celebrates at home plate after hitting a three-run home run in the fourth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ball Park on July 19, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Even though the Cincinnati Reds lost, Ryan Lavarnway was a big winner in Friday’s matchup against the St. Louis Cardinals. After spending the year with the Yankees Triple-A squad, Lavarnway earned a spot on the Reds after injuries to Curt Casali and Kyle Farmer decimated their catcher depth. Lavarnway had a historic night at the plate, providing one of the best feel-good moments of the year in his return to the majors.

Ryan Lavarnway Has Historic Performance in 2019 Debut

Ryan Lavarnway finished his night going 3-5 with two home runs, a double, six RBI’s, and a walk. This was his first major league appearance since September 30th, 2017 and his first two home runs since the 2015 season.

While this was an impressive outing on a personal level, Lavarnway’s great night was even more impressive with a historical context. Lavarnway, who has never been anything more than a journeyman, became the first player in Reds history to record more than three RBI’s in his team debut. Additionally, he’s one of just four players to product three hits, two homers, and six RBI’s in a single game since at least 1920. As if that wasn’t enough, he joined Johnny Bench as the only catcher in Reds history to pull off the feat.

Lavarnway’s Journey

Lavarnway’s path to the majors wasn’t an easy one. The Boston Red Sox selected the Yale product as a sixth-round pick in the 2008 June Amateur Draft. Sixth-round picks have a remarkably low hit rate, especially for a position as coveted as a catcher. Generally speaking, if you have any signs of promise, you’re long gone by the time these picks roll around.

Nevertheless, Lavarnway started climbing up the ranks of the Red Sox farm. He steadily improved his status in the system and cracked Sox Prospects’ top-10 midway through the 2011 season. Lavarnway was one of the top catching prospects in the county and looked poised to take over for Jason Varitek after posting a .275/.367/.452 slash line through his first three seasons in the minors.

Lavarnway made a brief cameo with the 2011 Red Sox and looked good in limited action. The righty appeared in 17 games, posting a .231/.302/.436 slash line with a 98 wRC+. This was a small sample, but it looked like his hit tool could translate to the major league level.

Determination in Adversity

Unfortunately, Lavarnway couldn’t consistently translate his hit tool to the major league level. While he had an ok season as a backup in 2013, most of his Red Sox career was a disappointment. Lavarnway posted an underwhelming .201/.249/.315 slash line in 301 plate appearances before the Red Sox decided to part ways after the 2014 season. Lavarnway spent some time with the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves in 2015, but couldn’t latch on with either franchise.

For most guys, this would be the end of the road. However, Lavarnway refused to give up on his dream. Lavarnway spent the 2017 and 2018 seasons primarily serving as minor league depth for the Oakland Athletics and the Pittsburgh Pirates, respectively. While he posted adequate numbers in Triple-A, he never truly earned a chance in the majors. He appeared in a combined 12 major league games with the two franchises before signing a minor league deal with the Yankees prior to the 2019 season.

Lavarnway was once a top prospect, but it’s pretty unlikely that he magically found his form at 32 years old. Chances are, this performance will be nothing more than a fun, random memory to look back on. However, for Lavarnway, it’s the product of years of work and a refusal to give up. Hopefully, he can keep it up for the remainder of 2019.

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