WEEI>On Demand>>Minor Details Ep. 20: Becoming a catcher, with Ryan Lavarnway

Minor Details Ep. 20: Becoming a catcher, with Ryan Lavarnway

Mar 13, 2012|

By his own admission, Ryan Lavarnway did not have the defensive abilities to be a major league catcher when he started his professional career in 2008. However, he remained driven by a desire to become the best catcher possible, and over the last four years, he has made what Red Sox officials and talent evaluators in other organizations consider to be incredible strides, to the point where he may soon break through as an everyday big league catcher. In this episode of Minor Details, Lavarnway discusses the player development process that has led to a defensive transformation that, in turn, has made him one of the top prospects in the Red Sox system.

Transcript - will not be 100% accurate

I think so much for joining excessive -- he -- -- through that haven't talked about player development as a catcher specifically focusing on the catching aspect of your -- so. Thanks again for Europe for agreeing to sit down -- literally sitting down and Texans were at a desk in not in Fort Myers. So you went to your college coach as a sophomore effort if memory serves to say you wanted to media attention is that right. Yes. We senior catcher. My freshman year and there was another guy in my classes that are created penalty his position. And he ended up needing Tommy John surgery. Our sophomore year and the spot was therein. I was growing -- go either and I knew that my my foot speed wasn't going to be. No -- -- -- the -- level I'm looking forward a little bit and I knew you know let's be in the play in and the union monitors so this is a good transition. So your foot speed and you were playing the outfield -- going correction. Why I was so -- was -- and -- avenue rather than saying first -- base where you know they're. Again but speed is necessarily that it had a pretty. I taught in Little League and on the JV team in high school and I always loved that -- is. I'll take your hands on I was kind of gravitated towards. Positions that were more involved in the game and that could take more of a leadership role. To. Were you aware of what kind of work would have to go into being catcher had happened was it obvious or was it or was it just what we beneficial position for me to play. Com I don't think. Anyone could have no mud -- live at that point but. I definitely wanted to. Get back there and start learning. Are you gotten into good learner -- someone for whom you know for whom catching came very naturally and without effort or wasn't you know wasn't the case that from from the beginning. It was a you know I kind of laborious you know in detail oriented meticulous undertakings. We'll tell you one of the few positions. Very few people are actually no well armed men in college I didn't have a coach that you catch him. Com so I kind of felt my way through it and my guess that I always -- good hands those receivable world. Com but. Putting myself in a good position physically salute my body of work naturally. Calm that didn't come until pro ball here's letter. So you can -- as a -- you how well you're correct in that was the year that you were able so we donation in in hitting him in -- and concerns. Was it difficult to balance those two tests you know figuring out what it meant to be cash earnings you know and also refining you're practicing better. -- he's always come a little -- more -- at home but here at my level of focus from. I think that day my freshman year ended threw them into the season my sophomore year was that an incredibly incredibly high level. Com. And I took. The game my hitting my -- and I think everything. 100%. Seriously with a 100% of my head of myself and I think catching help and that because you can't going in the outfield and stays up and got them standing in the old times. Is -- unions and you have a wrist injury that kind of restricted the amount of time that you can spend behind the play. Yeah but when he needs into the season mantra lead over the catcher -- home -- And long carrier cops. -- them but a lot of -- come down on our list. And so you went to went -- the person that doesn't work with the instructors in the Red Sox -- and a first kind of opportunity to work with people who are specialists in this. You know in this very unusual discipline. Well as draft in June 2 dozen -- and I had a cast a virus and to -- and two weeks prior. Com and I couldn't play until mid August. There really let you play for awhile -- to see how. What what skills they got to hear what made you successful to this point we don't wanna change. You and so we know what you're -- -- already so I didn't really work and on until spring training 2000. -- some strange things she does not the primary people you would have been or maybe we're probably -- perhaps well. There was the amount of attention coordinator though it and then. I want to Greenville and Kevin moles had been captured in my -- -- -- short he had an attachment you please continue to work. So what did you find out about your technique is a catcher in that first exposure to probe -- ask her. Wolves in addition to the fact that I didn't put my body in a position to succeed. -- -- -- -- just. I've closed below like my hips were below land use which meant -- go down to block efforts had to raise my -- -- math student. Which is takes too long. And the pitches and the -- is coming up nine miles an hour. Four tenths of a second to block it or recognize that you need to blog and mental block. So both giving myself enough time to do that. And then you know. The position I was in on the settlement he bowed out. Restrict in my head lateral movement so -- -- I was limited -- balls that within my friend. And and then on top of that as the pitchers that are throwing pitches that are very moving nastier than I've ever seen before so. I had a lot to learn and thank them quick -- and eager -- and that's good to. Teachers what was the most difficult pitch that you're trying to -- back there with that Green no team in. But -- I'm trying to remember old times that would have been Kelly was there right. He's goes there Bryan Brothers and -- I had gone we got a lot of a lot of really talented arms. And. Was very webpage -- it was just -- -- right and nasty I don't write little you already dancing. Or was the hardest pitch and I think. And the -- would say this right and it's a girl left handed power slider. Are the hardest -- because that's the one direction that you're on doesn't mean. So you have to you've achieved. Or or anticipated as a better word for it anticipated. And put your arm your elbow. Your shoulder gonna use this feature hamsters in ball. You had kind of two different sources of that season because at the beginning that your memory serves to brokerage was also in in Greeneville when you. And I think that you guys were more or less I'm not sure it was like a 5050 -- back behind the plate or that was. Standard different even then you know FedEx was was promoted. To sail in the middle of that year and I think he's got a lot of playing time behind the plate. Towards the second half back here. Yet they phrased they phrased in the beginning of the year that we are splitting time. But. He was session about to about thirty. Maybe maybe three -- five now and how do you July and then you have an Israeli news here yeah well -- young -- at the midway point. Com and had a hard time doing that those first time that I I don't know starter in my entire life com. And when he got moved up I got more playing time. -- help us on mental state in and I fell under the deal of -- -- we're going along. Part of being professional lines. Because I think every single one of insider as the best player on every team ever played on our entire lives. What do you suggest to me the idea that you know you're catching perhaps let's say two out of five games and a first part of the season is based. I mean I've talked to guys missed him -- organization who center. Those are exactly days off for catchers that they really like to use that time and then we've seen a number of levels Red Sox have commonly it kept coming at. Two -- sharing starting duties behind the plate you know. Working -- catcher DH things. So that you guys can just focus on technique a lot -- days is that. How valuable is gaming experience vs vs those off days when perhaps you can just. You don't have someone just kind of punish you with balls in the dirt for opera couple days for a couple hours. All the -- they're not again. You spent a lot more time at least a tangible answers to listen live rust from pitcher the differences. It's not a pretty situation is no runners is no fans umpire but you were gone you really focus on your receiving your blocking. With a live rust on the -- reasonable because there's every day is three or four guys that want -- amount. Especially the lower levels. And then you go into your drills and especially with all the -- Hughes is huge. Analysts. All all take a battle hit balls that you math or I'll take many balls taking any glove. Do this. And then the games and really put it. Was when you really focus on putting have you had been practicing. In practice yes didn't and again calm but. A top of the work is done weren't known to watch. Craig must be an awful place in which to -- have to. Focus ought not disastrous development engine and just imagining you know what it's regularly hundred plus degrees what right you know -- Crazy humidity and Greg -- you're probably isn't via -- -- in the world. I don't know I don't know listening successfully honest. I don't remember as my my first full season com. I play and I think maybe them before that you're the most and that ever played in one year was this fifties the sixties. So you weren't like a high school my travel team type of guy. We -- thirty games and I -- sees them and then you play probably wouldn't want more hands 5060 games spread over 45 months instead of tickets -- -- -- Also enhanced playoffs all of a sudden you're plan. 200 games down and 225. Days. And that's another part of being professional that people don't realize because. There's nothing you can do you prepare your body to play tournament games and here other than playing two games. I mean that just -- kind of curiosity because you know catching is a punishing position didn't part of you ever think ends. You know you you kind of identified when you were in college stated this was an avenues of further your prospect status to increase the likelihood of being a big leader. At the same time was there but there's sends -- this kind of a faustian bargain -- You are putting yourself in position to have to endure more physically that you wouldn't if you had done a different route professionally and you know and that can potentially -- a consequence because a lot of people talk about how. Catching -- can be can enjoy shorter shelf lives than those other positions because of the physical punishment can take. Com -- the other approach and I remembered that growing up. I had heard that the fastest good news okay let me. And did you hear that from you members I want my. Troubled coaches and literally. Went back Brian Maloney used scout for the royals. I think the Braves -- one point and he has. So that's that's all the way that I. Was it something that you are you know these don't work that you're investing -- -- in Greenville wasn't something that was you know there was painstaking or was it you know argue some -- do. Who enjoys the kind of process of you know of development and you know perhaps. You know perhaps the idea that you were able to identify. Areas of development was rewarding enough to justify. Well there are so there are some gains -- -- us on some pitchers that. Don't go out there and I couldn't I couldn't handle that stuff behind and I got embarrassed. And I and I never -- feel embarrassed I didn't feel prepared united. And I didn't really handle. So I wanted to go out there and I wanted to get the work done so that I could be the best. At the same time Tim Tim was you know starting over me not play and we we got comparable bats. But again I would say it's hard to deal with not being the best and I was gonna do everything I couldn't make myself the best. Com so that -- put in the best the best work ethic the most hours and and I feel that's the thing that approach. Where did you see the most growth. As attention must do you know where in what areas did you see development over the course staffers here by play. I didn't look at it as individual aspects a look at the big picture and as a whole as a catcher. I went from on serviceable. And couldn't. I could be sent out there to catch fire starters but five different -- responded in a row and and get away I was going to be exposed in one way -- the other. All sued by the end of the year I was very serviceable guys like throwing I mean I felt more comfortable. All I was I was I ended up thrown out. I think a higher percentage runners that's another in the -- -- both animals than done. I think over the organization the last two years and drug runners. Passed balls. Dropped by 90%. Just in all areas -- vast improvements and and it showed in the that the daily the daily where the daily grind as well. It's interesting because your answer and I you know I haven't seen a number of levels -- career but I don't follow them far. And you know and I would always say -- You know look he's you know -- -- stealing percentage is actually very good his you know his past all reason you know I've dropped precipitously etc. etc. it was always interest -- me because. You -- you hear people saying yes absolutely these are all elements you know markers progress but at the same time -- Hussein -- is not a statistically based. You know undertaking you can't really just look at those numbers do you view it. Catching how difficult you if you -- against to quantify and you know progress is progress measurable win in statistics -- -- Rather it is our most important markers of progress statistical. Or how do you measure. Mom there's -- aspects that are measurable. Com obviously passed balls you don't -- those you can avoid them throwing errors viewing areas. All and then you can look as far as you are raised when -- when you're catching horses when you're not testing. But -- also take into account the different personalities on the amount of your investments and -- -- time. Maybe that this year. Is this that is in maybe maybe you could help them more I don't know I actually was fast arm last night about my girlfriend. She's she's when she's watching she wonders how much. How much the center. Helps the pitcher on how much psychiatrist in Atlanta. The -- in the head and I had an adjustment of percentage. Him and I thought muscle. I never thought about that before and my first thought was. Maybe you guys given up runs. I could help them get vote was wrong sort. If -- -- Going well I can I can help them stay in rhythm and maybe maybe 20%. 20% can be attributed to the desert or or 10% and I think -- that's a hard thing to put a number on because. All I think every every good pitcher catcher -- we'll tell you the pitcher was let's hope though a lot by the -- Ultimately there's got the ball and and had an end of the day he's he's the final decision on what -- he's gonna throw. So it. It's a hard thing to put to put. A number. It's it's a fun thing to think about. How much. Come. Which is more challenging for him to focus on improving in terms of technique stands footwork setup that sort of thing. Quarter to figure out you know speaker of the game calling part of things is you know what -- pitcher -- -- -- throw in order to keep him in rhythm and that sort of thing. And what kind of sequences are going to effectively on balance the opposing hitter. It's what this one. -- -- -- a good catcher. I do all the physical things well I don't think we will. And that doesn't mean that I stopped working on them -- so that I can become the best because I'm hungry to become the best in all aspects. But at this point it's more about learning pitchers getting comfortable. Saying what what their strengths are and then when it when we start playing games that matter in the season. Then exploiting his weaknesses along with. His view that distracts so stepping back you know we were we've kind of gotten through got me big time and efforts -- in Greeneville in Spezza didn't fascinating years. To conclude because -- give him that you're able to kind of take stock of where you've come as you know how far you've come as a catcher and also what you need to work -- so entry got off season what we're what refocused on. In order to kind of take next steps to be a better catcher. The first thing was getting my body shape because those -- this fall apart by a good year. I was -- fairness test not content and they're very very long year. Physically mentally. I was exhausted. I don't wanna leave the couch for a long time for the season. And I knew. An extra month in the big -- over four on the back again plus playoffs you're playing your best baseball. And not falling apart at the end of the year. So getting getting in this -- -- that I didn't know it's possible. Each of the following years going in the spring trend was my biggest thing and then flexibility. And continue to work on my stance allowing bodies over to work. Do you if I think that I thank you cross somewhere like did you worth it to you take part you and -- that offseason orders and order improved flexibility and stances that sort of thing. You know what you're good and this -- is -- also sort of implies you know how how does flexibility benefit you in terms of time in terms of technique. All my -- my hip joints. The votes effort federal artillery the arterial and for whatever. My my I hit joins -- grown as a -- help support them because there aren't so much Brussels on. Which is integrated structurally it as far as what's behind my head it's not on the part but it also lends merit promotion. Sign the measure that quiet soft tissue isn't tremendously good city. Com. So that I can work around. Amended this. -- -- scope surgery I don't want to go there and so it is a main -- than a -- Sausage you my muscles are flexible and myself that -- quality is good citizen that -- continue to -- the position. How different wasn't coming back in 2009 when you have that off season in which you know you're -- polluters off the couch in order to work on you know I'm. Getting in shape to be a better catcher. How different wasn't coming back because you know -- this thing out front you know I remember talking to Chad Epperson who. Who had prevent prevent pollen season became. Well you had him in Salem for that -- next season right -- rumbles on at both he's moved up right because for a chat. Ended up being not being roving catching instructor for the following year right. And she was raving about the improvements that you were able to making your stance. And set up back here and he said you know it is now looks he -- sets up like you know and looks like a big league catcher you know it looks like. You know this is this is something that we can work with how different was it for you. Experiencing that to come back in 2010. And to have that kind of physical improvement they might remain technical improvement. And lose just a and his love must also -- development easier and still. That's the -- still had to put get put in and I still bowl Leo it's still in you know doing drove the personal day. -- -- -- -- -- But it's just it was it was less. Painful lesion in my squad in the morning. Just -- to the learning curve. Change -- you present at some point where they'll -- -- receiver meeting you very good kind of make advances at a faster rate that you were over the course of that first year. I mean. There's no -- as volatile one to a hundred of public started at zero anonymous 99. Of this. Theoretical. Huge improvement that's that's happened you list. I couldn't catch every single ball and our pitchers in the -- -- the block every single ball not blockers and ball. Com it's what happened was one that was the service award once -- stands. Weren't allowed myself to work. Then -- sort of working on some of finer things the things. When you're looking at it and you might not even notice. That even if you're looking forward in my mind you know this is just. It takes -- from 99 out of under 200 under. Can you give examples of some of those things that we might not notice you know again like and I always find that to be a fascinating part of you know experience of -- you're trying to work on details that you know it's just kind of reminiscent of what how old house Steve Jobs went about building you know building. Pretty products right there is this hole in his biography there's this whole section. About how he cared a lot about is actually the internal organs of computers that normalcy but he still wanted to make beautiful you know him or make. Gains in the process make better functioning computers. I know two and I'll just use the computer but in terms those -- to -- that attention to detail their craft what sort of stuff. Compress that. And there's a there's a hundred little things that coaches do and again. No real -- then another -- or notice you the way that you. Relax your hand and in pre pitch moment to two layers of the receivable. With soft hands. -- you that angles that you take when you're backing up first thing Islam play is. And and even in situations where some guys. Don't think you need to back up what you need to view tobacco person to name him a run on third two outs and ground ball. You know I'm gonna cover home does not play at all but most yes there there there's a bathroom first you can keep that data scoring position. There's. And in this kind of problem I. There. When you take time outs to slow momentum of his time on the other team now how well how fast do you take your mound visit. In order to not only. Did you pitcher numbers in mind but many didn't about it is that even if it's. Don't wanna go on another talk about that that you can maybe you can. Have an effect on the again. At a pace of the again and momentum again. Does that a lot of people won't notice that you might feel. And you've been let -- what happened team. So you mentioned earlier you know now you ordered us to do all of these different aspects these technical aspects whereas you know whereas at. Actually able you didn't feel like you're going to be in a position to be able today -- to ask you just needed to catch. Now you are able to do what did you get the sense that. You were capable of being you know -- your technique and improved to the point where you know this was a big -- Major -- catching tools that. Still send us those. I went to once again where tech -- -- -- an -- -- Frenchman probably years ago. It started picking up on. People thought about going to go into the the end of that and shooting in non on one position watching. Watching together what is your position and see what he doesn't trying to pick up a little things. And I never knew that now my whole life. On the -- -- ought to be looked at home runs and what's the ball play this year but honestly you and I lost -- -- attack. And they both have big bodies -- most judges don't and I sort of watching the way the days. Did things and I couldn't I couldn't tell you what I picked up but I I remembered noticing certain things and feeling myself do it. -- today and I can visualize them feel it in myself and that's an -- I can do it. It's it's interesting too because you know you are you know you can't be talking about where you -- as a catcher you know at the beginnings of his professional career and you know in your college career when you were basically two teams picking up scratch. With the exception of what you've -- ultimately. You you're probably aware that there have been questions surrounding you know is right the army Major League caliber defensive catcher where he's there had been. As you came up through the ranks. Is is that an issue of you know of people forming perceptions that are based on you know that are based on past enough. You know not permitting the possibility of development and growth. All other people who see this these things and arson tests Greg -- on the original plan. And all over the globe. First impressions that were formed by the people that they heard those rumors from. We're friends for years ago. But on other folks aren't. Very hungry to be the best. And I think that if people were judging first impressions now that -- defense and. Yeah I think that you know it I will say that it was he was such an extraordinary games what you -- in net Reynolds thank you of the season in Baltimore because. It was kind of you know you have an opportunity to essentially do a little everything's capture its -- rare combination right you had. You have given to him throw a basic attitude to throw a guy who's trying to steal a base you had you know bunch of balls in the dirt and -- successfully -- you had. If memory serves you were you're kind of negotiating injuries have been sequences with Alfredo services. Fairly vocal guy and you know I'm experiencing fans -- you know we're able to identify. You know go up -- commanders it's the right -- -- mean. How how satisfying you know weren't you sort of take. What game like that where you're do so many things that's not even mention the fact that you had a couple homers and in say in use that to reinforce. You know and gain confidence in what you're doing going. Reporters. Trying to make up a huge deal things that it ultimately didn't matter because. -- we can win the next game and our our goal in the World Series and we didn't quite make the playoffs. But for me catching him isn't everyday activity and the best -- and other ones that do it then and they and I want to be the best touch so I'm gonna go up and down and do it day in and -- -- And the fact that. I did it on both about one day those two days and I have been doing in spring training. It's just a start for me. Com if if people wanna start changing their mind about. About what they thought I would -- on the played four years ago that's straight. But ultimately I'll hold my pitches through the best they can now this team win games the most the most important things. Right and this has been great I think -- it's kind of opened up a window into you know until parsley you know hidden parts of the game into parts of what. Catchers have to go through in order to put themselves in position to be successful so. Thanks so much for taking the time to kind of analyzed. I aspect of the game in which just so much is difficult to appreciate because hitting into kind of senator lifetime. Us.

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