Monday, December 9, 2013
By Kevin Thomas firstname.lastname@example.org
PORTLAND — In 2008, when the Boston Red Sox used Kevin Cash to back up Jason Varitek, the Sox had George Kottaras and Dusty Brown in Triple-A, Mark Wagner in Portland, and an emerging prospect name Luis Exposito in Class A.
Still, Boston used its sixth and seventh picks in the 2008 draft on catchers.
Since then, Tim Federowicz and Ryan Lavarnway have shadowed each other, starting every season on the same team. Both are 23, with Federowicz two days older.
Currently, the two rotate roles in Portland. When one catches, the other is the designated hitter. The Red Sox want their prospects to get plenty of at-bats.
Given the current catching situation in Boston, it is not a stretch to think that both could be playing in Fenway Park someday.
Both were invited to the Red Sox rookie camp in January and then the major league spring training camp in February.
But, both are supposedly one-dimensional players -- Federowicz the defensive whiz who could not hit, and Lavarnway the offensive star who labored behind the plate.
"I understand the stereotype, but it's a little unfair," said Mike Hazen, director of player development for Boston.
"Lavarnway has made as much improvement as anyone in the system in terms of what he's doing behind the plate. And we think Fed can hit, too."
Of the two, who is ahead? They seem to take turns in that category.
In 2009, Federowicz got a midseason promotion to advanced Class A Salem, while Lavarnway stayed in Greenville.
Last year, Federowicz spent all season in Salem, batting .253, while Lavarnway moved up to Portland in mid-July. Lavarnway batted .287, totaling 22 home runs.
"He deserved to get called up," said Federowicz, who batted .253 with four home runs in Salem. "I was in a rut at the beginning of the (2010) season. I was a little disappointed I was in A-ball again. From my mindset, I felt like I didn't belong there when, in reality, I did. My numbers showed that."
Federowicz said he adjusted his attitude and that led to improvement at the end of last year. He has carried that over into 2011.
Through Friday, Federowicz was batting .333 (16 for 48) with three doubles and two home runs.
"This is the best I've felt my whole career, Federowicz said. "I've been able to stay on the ball a lot longer -- seeing pitches, going deep in counts. Making sure the pitcher throws me a pitch I want to hit, and not swing at the balls I don't want to hit."
Sea Dogs Manager Kevin Boles was in Salem last year, and Greenville the year before that. He knows both players.
"Tim Federowicz does profile as a catch-and-throw candidate for the major leagues," Boles said. "Very quick feet, strong release, good arm strength.
"But he has offensive potential (too). I think people are selling the bat short."
Federowicz's defensive abilities are considered the best in the Red Sox farm system. And now that he is hitting, his name comes up in media speculation about the catching situation in Boston.
New No. 1 catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia is struggling on defense, while batting .205 through Friday. And Varitek, 39, is batting only .043.
In Pawtucket, newly acquired Michael McKenry is considered an emergency fill-in, while Exposito's defense is not ready. And when McKenry was acquired, Wagner was taken off the 40-man roster, showing the confidence Boston has in him.
Lavarnway's forte had always been his offense, with a career .862 OPS. His catching looked suspect as recently as two years ago.
"His season in Greenville, he wasn't very athletic," Boles said. "Had a hard time just catching the ball.
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