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.

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Transcript - Not for consumer use. Robot overlords only. Will not be accurate.

I think so much for joining -- -- he -- -- through that haven't talked about player development as a catcher specifically focusing on the catching aspect of your craft so. Thanks again for -- -- to sit -- me an extra literally sitting down and Texans were at a desk in not in Fort Myers. So you went to your college coach as a sophomore -- 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 routes kind of take his position. And he ended up needing Tommy John surgery. On our sophomore year and a spot was there in. I was growing might go either and I knew that my my foot speed wasn't going to be. No playable at the new level I'm looking forward a little bit and I knew you know let's be in the play and in the game on every -- so this is a good transition. So your foot speed and you were playing the outfield that's going correction. Why I was so I was -- -- -- avenue rather than saying first -- base where you know there. Again but speed is necessarily that it had a pretty. Taught in Little League and on the JV team in high school and I always loved that I was. Always -- your hands on I was kind of gravitated towards. Positions that were more involved in the game and they can take more of a leadership role. To. Were you aware of what kind of work would have to go into being a catcher at that -- was it obvious or was it or was it just what we an official position for me to play. Com I don't think. Anyone good enough mud we'll live at that point but. I definitely wanted to. Get back there and start learning. Are you gotten into good learner and someone for whom you know for whom catching him 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 -- you know detail oriented meticulous undertakings. What gets you one of the few positions. Very few people actually know well armed men in college and 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 that was received the ball well. On foot. Putting myself in good position physically so my body of work naturally. Arm that didn't come until pro ball -- letter. So you don't see it as a sophomore you how well you're correct in that was the year that you were able so we donation enough and hitting him in college and -- Was it difficult to balance those two tests you know figuring out what it meant to be cash earnings you know and also refining your -- as a hitter. Oh he's always come a little little one actually home back here at my level of focus from. I think that day in my freshman year and it threw them into the season my sophomore year was that an incredibly incredibly high level. On. And I took. The game my hitting my -- and I think everything. 100%. Seriously with a 100% of -- of myself and I think catching help that because he can't going in the outfield and stays up and got them standing in at all times. Isn't junior did 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 of the lead over the catcher -- home plate. Edmonton and long career ops. Cleared them but a lot of masks come down on Chris. And so you went to win -- -- 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. Was drafted in June 2 -- -- and I had a cast on my -- and just answer in two weeks prior. Com and I couldn't play until mid August and there really let you play for a while the letter 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 with -- on until spring training 2000. Okay so in spring training 2900. People you would have -- -- were probably injury perhaps -- There was the amount of attention coordinator though it and then. I want to Greenville and Kevin Boles had been a catcher in my manager. The angle sure he had been a catcher when he please continue to work. So what did you find out about your technique is a catcher in that first exposure to -- -- -- -- -- in addition to the fact that I didn't put my body in a position to succeed. -- -- -- just. My quote below like my hips were blow might use which meant to go down to block efforts had to raise my -- -- math student. Which is takes too long. And the pitches the pitches coming up nine miles an hour you know. Four tenths of -- second to block it or recognize that you need to block him and mental block. So both giving myself enough time to do that. And then you know. The position I was in on the inside of my feet bowed out. Had. Restricted my lateral movement so -- -- and owls limited some balls that would have been my friend. And and then on top of that as the pitchers that are throwing pitches that are -- moving nastier than I've ever seen before so. I had a lot to learn and thank them quick learner and eager learner and that's -- good team. 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 both times that would have been Kelly was there right. He's goes there Brian -- and -- I had gone we had a lot of a lot of really talented arms. And. -- Karrie -- -- like it was a slider right and nasty I don't write little you alright dancing. Or was the hardest pitch and I think. And the catcher would say this right handed sinker left handed power slider. Are the hardest pitches because that's the one direction 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 -- Panthers -- ball. You had kind of two different stresses that season because at the beginning of that your memory serves to -- was also him in Greenville -- you. And I think that you guys were more or less I'm not sure -- it was like a 5050 timeshare back behind the plate -- that was. -- different even then you know FedEx was was promoted. To -- 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 two about a thirty. Maybe maybe three out of five knowing how do you July and then you have any Israeli who is -- yeah well -- young -- at the midway point. Com and I had a hard time doing that those first time that I I don't know starter in my entire life calm. And when he got moved up I got more playing time. That helps my mental state in and I fell under the deal this we're going along. Part of being professional lies. Because I think every single one of insider it was the best player on every team ever played on our entire lives. What do you successes me the idea that you know you're catching perhaps losing two out of five games and a first cart season is -- I mean I've talked to guys miss in the organization who sent. 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 that have come -- -- Two catchers sharing starting duties behind the plate you know. Working -- catcher DH thing. So that you guys can just focus on technique a lot in off days is that. How valuable is game experience vs vs those off days when perhaps you can just. You know have someone just kind of punish you with balls in the dirt for -- couple days for a couple hours. All the days they -- not again. You spent a lot more time we still -- answers -- YRS from the pitcher the difference is that. It's not a pretty situation is no runners is known fans is an umpire but you were gone you really focus on your receiving -- blocking. With a live reps on the pitchers in double figures every day is three or four guys that want to -- amount. Especially the lower levels. And then you -- -- your drills and especially with all the -- -- huge analysts. All all take a battle hit balls that you math or I'll take many balls -- in any glove. Do this. And then the games has really put it. Was when you really focus on putting have you had been practicing. In practice yes didn't and -- calm but. A top of the work is done or England -- watch. Craig must be an awful place much to much have to. Focus on not disastrous development engine and just imagining you know what it's regularly a hundred plus degrees -- right you know when. Crazy humidity and -- -- you're probably isn't the other spot on the team in the world. I don't know I don't know listening successfully honest. I just remember as my my first full season calm. I had played and I think maybe them before that you're the most anybody had ever played in one year was -- fifty's to -- So you weren't like a high school my travel team type -- guy. When you have -- thirty games and -- the season and then you play probably wouldn't want more -- 5060 games spread over 45 months instead of you take its spring training to look also -- 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 a 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 that this was an afternoon to further your prospect status to increase the likelihood of being a big leader. At the same time I was there but there's sends me this kind of a faustian bargain bit like. You are putting yourself in position to have to endure more physically that you would if you had gone a different route professionally and you know and that can potentially coming a consequence because a lot of people talk about how. Catching careers can be can enjoy shorter shelf lives than those other positions because of the physical punishment to take. Com I took the other approach and I remembered that growing up. I had heard that the fastest living dailies kept it means. And did you hear that from you members I want my. Travelled coaches and literally. Went back Brian Malone he's scout for the Royals. Think the Braves at that point and he has. So that's that's the way that I. Was it something that you are you know things -- -- -- -- -- investing next -- -- Greenville wasn't something that was you know there was painstaking or was it you know argue someone who. 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 so there are some games and there are some some pitchers that. That would go out there and I couldn't I couldn't handle that stuff -- and I got embarrassed. And I and I never want to feel embarrassed I didn't feel prepared and I and and I didn't really handle. So I wanted to go out there and I wanted to get 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 comfortable at bats. But again I was it was hard to deal with not being the best and I was gonna do everything I couldn't make myself the best. Com -- that -- put in the best the best work ethic the most hours and and I still that's the thing that approach. Where did you see the most growth. As a catcher 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 as an individual aspects a look at the big picture and -- a whole as a catcher. I want from him on serviceable. And couldn't. I could be sent out there to catch fire starters but five different star responded in a row and and get away -- I was going to be exposed in one way or the other. All too by the end of the year I was very serviceable guys like throwing -- me I felt more comfortable. Com I was I was I ended up thrown out. I think a higher percentage of runners that and by the end of the year by it was both tackles and done. I think over the organization the last two years and drug runners. Passed balls. Dropped by 90%. Just in all areas lose the vast improvements and and it showed in the that the daily the -- -- the daily grind as well. It's interesting because your answer and it 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 lucky is you know this -- percentage is actually very good his you know his past all reason you know I've dropped precipitously in San Francisco it was always interest in me because. You -- you hear people say yes absolutely these are all elements you know markers progress but at the same time -- Hussein catching is not a statistically based. You know undertaking you can't really just look at those numbers do you -- it. Catching how difficult -- you -- against to quantify and you know progress is progress measurable in in statistics or is. Rather it is our most important markers of progress statistical. Or how do you measure them. Mom -- inflated athletes that are measurable. -- obviously -- passed balls you don't -- those you can avoid them throwing errors fielding errors. All and then you look as far as your raised one years when you're catching horses -- tonight I think. But -- also take into account the different personalities on the mound you're catching us and -- -- time. Maybe that this year. Is this -- him off 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 that when she's watching she wonders how much. How much the catcher. Helps the pitcher on how much that factors in Atlanta. The -- -- -- head and I -- just -- a percentage. Through and I thought muscle that I had never thought about that before and my first thought was. Many of the guys given up runs. I could help them give up what's wrong sort. If guys aren't 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 it's that's a hard thing to put a number on because. All I think every every good pitcher catcher combo will tell you the pitcher was helped out a lot by the catcher. Ultimately it just -- for 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. 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 to figure out of the game calling part of things is you know what a pitcher doesn't want to 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. I'm I'm just. I'm 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 all tomorrow 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 exploit his weaknesses along with. That's the pitcher's strengths so stepping back you know we were we've kind of gotten through got me big time and efforts your Greeneville games that must have been a fascinating years. To conclude because -- give -- 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 on so entry got off season what we're what were you focused on. In order to kind of take next steps to be a better catcher. The first thing was getting my body in shape because I was really into the fall apart by a good year. I was looking at fairness it's not content -- yeah 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 leagues over four on the back then plus playoffs you need to be 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 training was my biggest thing and then flexibility. And continue to work on my stance a lot about it so to work. Do you if I think that I thank you cross somewhere like did you -- to you take part you and -- that offseason -- and order improved flexibility and stances that sort of thing. You know what you're good and in this -- also sort of implies you know how how does flexibility benefit you in terms of time in terms of technique. All my bone in my hip joints. The votes effort federal artillery the arterial and for whatever. My my I -- -- -- -- as a bonus forum because there aren't so stressful time. Which is integrated structurally it as far as behind my head is not on par but it also -- merit emotion. So wanted to make sure that quiet soft tissue isn't tremendously good city. Com. So that I can work around. And ended this. Give -- scope surgery I don't want to go there -- Sosa mentioned in my. My thoughts as you my muscles were flexible and muscle -- -- qualities good citizens that can continue to get in the position. How different was it coming back in 2009 when you have that off season in which you know you're you put yourself 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 often this thing out front you know I remember talking to Chad Epperson who. Who had Fredette -- following season became. But you had him in Salem for that confident next season right no fumbles and both he moved ducks 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 work a little bit easier and still. That's the -- still had to put get put in and I still bowl they -- -- you know doing drills or some of the day. -- -- -- -- -- But it's just it was it was less. Painful to get into my squad and -- Just to learn it and learning curve. Change anything -- -- the point where little learning -- receiver meeting you were able to kind of make it dances 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 does that happen you list. I couldn't catch every single ball and our pitchers in the -- -- -- -- -- -- not blockers and ball. Com it's what happened was one that was -- service award once -- stands. Would allow myself to work. Then -- sort of working on some of finer things the things. When you're looking at a game you might not even notice. That even if you're looking forward in my mind you know this is just. It -- -- from 99 out of under 200 under. Can you give examples of some of those things that we might not notice you know again Mike and I always find that to be a fascinating part of you know experience of craft and you're trying to work on details that you know it's just kind of reminiscent of like how old house Steve Jobs went about building you know building him. Pretty products right there is this whole in his biography there's this whole section. About how he cared a lot about essentially the internal organs of computers and normalcy but he still wanted to make -- you know him or make. Gains in the process -- that are functioning computers. I know two and I'll just use the computer but in terms -- Zito to the day that attention to detail their craft what sort of stuff. Comprises that. And there's there's a hundred little things that coaches do and again. Nobody -- then another -- or notice you the way that you. Relax your hand and in pre pitch movement to two layers -- to receive the ball with soft hands. On you the 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 there was no play at all but most stayed there there's a vet threw first you can keep -- status -- position. There's. And in this kind -- problem I. There. When you take time outs to slow momentum on the other type of -- and Tina how well how fast do you take your mound visit. In order to not only. Did you pitcher numbers in mind that maybe didn't about it is that even if it's. -- one out of on another thought about that then you can maybe you can. Have an effect on the again. And the 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 go what happened in. So you mentioned earlier you know now you ordered us to do all of these different aspects the second class -- whereas you know whereas at. I can able you didn't feel like you're going to be in a position to be able -- two 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 I immediately catching schools that. Still -- Espinosa. I went to once again where tech was coached against an hour sprint Sprint Cup -- years ago. And I started picking up on. People thought about going to go into the the end of that and shooting hand on on one position watching. Watching the guy that plays your position and see what he does and trying to pick up a little things. And I never knew that and my whole life. On the clothes -- to watch people hit home runs and what's the ball play this year but honestly you and I lost -- attack. And they both have big bodies like -- -- most coaches 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 could visualize them feeling in myself and that's the most. I can do it. It's its existence you because you know you are you know you can't be talking about where you were as a catcher you know at the beginnings of your 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 on the -- a Major League caliber defensive catcher but he's there had been. As you came up through the ranks. Is is that an issue of you know of people -- perceptions that are based on you know that are based on past enough. You know I'm not permitting the possibility of development and growth. All the other people who say this these things and -- catch Greg none of the original plan. And all of the -- First impressions that were formed by the people that they heard those rumors from. We're friends for years ago. But I'm very -- aren't. Very hungry to be the best. And I think that if people were judging first impressions now that BCU defense and. Yeah I think that you know it I will say that it was he was such an extraordinary games what you mean in net penalty 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've had you know bunch of balls in the dirt and -- successfully block you had. If memory serves and you work you're kind of negotiating through some pitch sequences with Alfredo services. Fairly vocal guy and you know I'm experiencing fans you you know we're able to identify. You know go -- meet the -- it's the right time I mean. How how satisfying you know were you sort of take. What game like that where you're do so many things that's not even mentioning 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 lot of things that it ultimately didn't matter because. Yeah we didn't win the next game and our our goal in the World Series and we didn't quite make the playoffs. But for me catching as -- as an everyday activity and the best catcher and other ones that do it day in and -- -- and I wanted to be the best -- so I'm gonna go out and on and do it day in and day out. 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 there's people wanna start changing their mind about. About what they thought I would flip on the play four years ago that's -- it. But ultimately I'll hold my pitches through the best they can now this team win games the most the most important things. -- 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 games and 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 it because -- into kind of -- lifetime. Us.

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