SleepersAugust 21, 2011

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Sleeper Watch

By Josh Shepardson

It’s not often that a prospect is able to put up jaw dropping numbers at an offensively anemic position and fly under the radar. Toss in that this player plays in the Boston Red Sox farm system and it becomes even more difficult to believe that media outlets (cough, ESPN) weren’t falling all over itself to tout the “next big thing.” To very little hoopla, Ryan LaVarnway made his Major League Baseball debut playing designated hitter for the Red Sox August 18.

LaVarnway is a much better fantasy baseball prospect than actual prospect because most of his value is tied to his bat. While he debuted at designated hitter, he’s been developed as a catcher, albeit one who’s defense is below average, but improving. Prior to his promotion, he had split the season between Double-A and Triple-A (exactly 239 plate appearances at each level) and crushed baseballs. He slugged 30 home runs with a combined slash of .293/.372/.559 and an isolated power (ISO) of .266. Those stats came in the Eastern League and the International League, making them all the more impressive.

Most scouting reports laud his ability to hit for power to all fields. Baseball America stated in their preseason write-up on him that he’ll likely have some holes in his swing, namely inside, as a result of being long armed. Taking his scouting report into account along with his high BABIP for a slow footed catching prospect, his strikeout rate which sits around approximately 20 percent, and he’ll probably see his average sit below his .293 minor league mark. His power, and his strong walk rate (better than 10 percent) will help offset a drop in batting average.

In the short term, it appears he’ll only carry utility eligibility, limiting his value. Regardless, deep leaguers may wish to give him a test run and hope his power translates quickly to the major league level. Being a part of the highest powered offense in the majors only helps his value, even if he does find himself penciled into the bottom third of the order. Dynasty leaguers should scoop him off the wire now if he’s available with the understanding that even if he isn’t a full-time catcher, he should see enough playing time there to pick up eligibility sometime next season, if not in September this year. David Ortiz may return to his designated hitter role as soon as today. If that’s the case, at bats will be hard to come by for LaVarnway. Monitor the situation and act accordingly depending on league size.

Josh is a graduate of SUNY Cortland's Sport Management program, and an aspiring fantasy writer. You can catch up with Josh in the Cafe Forums where he posts as B-Chad. You can also follow his work at The Hardball Times and follow him on Twitter (BChad50).
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