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Lavarnway keeping his goal simple but meaningful

Red Sox catcher looks to vault himself from prospect to full-time Major Leaguer

Lavarnway keeping his goal simple but meaningful

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- There might have been an opportunity lost for Ryan Lavarnway during his late-season audition with the Red Sox in 2012, when he hit .157 in 153 at-bats. There might be another opportunity coming soon -- perhaps this year if there is an injury to another catcher or should Jarrod Saltalamacchia depart as a free agent next offseason.

The 25-year-old Lavarnway tries to keep all those exterior storylines out of his head and continues to have tunnel vision in his quest to vault himself from prospect to Major League catcher.

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Once Lavarnway has reached his goal, he feels that the organizational catching depth chart won't matter so much.

"You create your own opportunities," Lavarnway said. "The better I play, the more that will be afforded to me."

The one thing Lavarnway has done his whole life until the stretch run of last season was hit.

When the Red Sox sunk out of postseason contention last August and decided to give Lavarnway a chance to play, his bat went cold.

Maybe it was fatigue from catching more games than he had before. Maybe it was just bad timing for a natural slump any good hitter can have over the course of a long season.

Whatever the case, the Red Sox decided to enter this season with a catching tandem of Saltalamacchia and veteran David Ross, officially making this another year of development for Lavarnway.

"David's a good player," Lavarnway said. "He's a guy that I can gain a lot of perspective from, so I'm glad he's here."

Lavarnway makes no excuses for the way he hit last year, but he doesn't dwell on it either.

"I stay positive," Lavarnway said. "I look at last year as a positive. I caught almost twice as many games as I had ever caught before. The amount of improvement in my defense to make myself a legitimate defensive catcher, I think, was my first priority last year, and I accomplished that. That was a positive."

Now comes the next vital step. Lavarnway must learn how to catch a lot and not let it have a profoundly negative impact on his bat.

"Some might say he went through a tough period last year. But you know what? He has to learn how to play, and play a lot -- to learn how to be a catcher," said catching instructor Dana Levangie. "That in itself is a hurdle he crossed. Now he knows what it feels like to play that position [full-time]. Now he can accept it going into this year. I expect him to get better and better each day, just like a lot of these players in there."

In the Minors, Lavarnway is a .285 career hitter with 85 homers and 334 RBIs over 1,691 at-bats.

"He's really never not hit -- except for last year," said Red Sox hitting coach Greg Colbrunn. "Until he proves otherwise, we have a pretty good idea he's going to hit."

From a technical sense, Colbrunn doesn't see a lot that Lavarnway needs to do to become a good hitter at the highest level.

"Just repetition, just at-bats," Colbrunn said. "Continue to do what he's been doing and continue to have quality at-bats. He's an offensive catcher, but his No. 1 priority is behind the plate."

Considering that Lavarnway didn't start catching until his sophomore season at Yale, his defensive improvement has been both incremental and impressive.

Last season, Lavarnway was voted as the International League's best defensive catcher.

"I feel great behind the plate," said Lavarnway. "I've been getting good feedback from the pitching staff and the coaches. I'm excited about where I am. I'm still hungry to continue to improve."

What does Lavarnway have going for him behind the plate?

"He has good hands -- he has really good hands," said Levangie. "He's able to frame the ball to within the strike zone within his body framework really well. We're working on the ground up, his leverage in his stance. We'll continue to work on those things, which will eventually help all aspects of his defensive abilities."

If defense is the top priority for a catcher, it's also hard to find offense from that position.

"He has shown he's getting back to that middle of the field approach," said manager John Farrell. "This is a guy that's a high-doubles, upper-teens, 20-home run type of guy that's going to hit for a good average. I don't see him being susceptible to right-handed or left-handed pitching. I see him as a guy that can handle both."

When it comes to 2013, Lavarnway is keeping his goal simple but meaningful.

"I just want to play to my ability in a complete, well-rounded game and things will work themselves out," Lavarnway said.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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