Johnny Giavotella and Ryan Lavarnway: Mining the Minors

This week, it’s finally time to get to a pair of guys who were becoming impossible to ignore with their recent play. Even if one of them is forever blocked by the unsurpassable Chris Getz.

This column offers a take on formerly-elite prospects, lesser-known farmhands and veteran minor leaguers who are on the verge of getting a shot — all with a nod to their fantasy relevance and impact, specifically for this season. To help owners, I’ll include a player’s Talent Rating; but just as important is the Opportunity Rating, which points out the likelihood that a player will make his way to the majors during the year.

Johnny Giavotella, 2B
Organization: Royals
Current Level: Triple-A
Statistics: .338 BA; .876 OPS; 9 HRs; 30 doubles; 66 RBIs; 61 runs; 53:38 K:BB over 420 ABs
40-man roster: No
Opportunity Rating: 8
Talent Rating: 7
Obstacle(s): Royals’ irrational love of Chris Getz

I’ve had a thing for Giavotella ever since he hit .322/.395/.460 at Double-A last season. (I’m pretty sure his Italianity has had only minimal impact on my totally unbiased affinity for the guy.) The 24-year-old second baseman picked a great time to have a breakout year in 2010, as Northwest Arkansas was a popular place, what with the likes of fellow hitting prospects Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas stopping by and helping the team win the Texas League championship. And all Giavotella has done this season is add to his resume. Despite a slow start, the righty-hitting 2008 second-rounder has been on an absolute tear since June 1: .390 BA, 7 HRs, 21 doubles, OPS over 1.000. Better still? He’s turning it up (.426 BA) as he gets closer to his first big-league call-up. The most immediate hurdle — if you can call it that — for Giavotella is current Royals 2B Chris Getz, he of the .592 OPS and — count ’em — 7 extra-base hits. Don’t mistake Giavy (that’s what I’m calling him) for a power hitter either, and of course you’ll note his stats this season are inflated some by the PCL, but there’s good gap power here, and he’s hit 30+ doubles in each of 2010 and 2011, and he’s already achieved career-highs in homers (9) and RBIs (66) this year. Plus, dude has always displayed good discipline at the dish (11% BB vs. 12% K). Throw in the fact that he plays a scarce position, and Giavy (hey, I warned you) will be an intriguing bench add in most AL-only leagues when he gets the call — a cause undertaken by the good folks at Kings of Kauffman — and he could become a legit starting MI option over the final weeks in deep AL play. Move aside, Getz.

ETA: Even with the possibility that Giavotella could be stuck in Triple-A until Omaha’s run in the minor league playoffs is over, he’s ready to get a shot in the majors any day now, so if you can add-and-stash, he could pay off down the line.

Ryan Lavarnway, C
Organization: Red Sox
Current Level: Triple-A
Statistics: .318 BA; .990 OPS; 27 HRs; 78 RBIs; 64 runs; 83:42 K:BB over 359 ABs
40-man roster: No
Opportunity Rating: 6
Talent Rating: 8
Obstacle(s): The Red Sox won’t carry three catchers

Until very recently, Lavarnway had somehow flown under the radar despite being a rare breed: the power-hitting catching prospect. That may be attributed, in part, to the fact that the 23-year-old is known more for the work he does at the plate rather than behind it. Indeed, there are questions about whether he can stick at catcher long-term — he’s actually spent half his time DHing this season — but at this rate, his righty bat alone will carry him to the bigs. The 2008 sixth-round pick out of Yale posted a .284/.360/.510 slash line with 14 bombs this year for Double-A, which earned him a mid-June promotion to Triple-A, where he’s already knocked in more runs (40) and hit more doubles (15) — while hitting just one fewer homer (13) — than he did at Portland, despite 50 fewer at-bats. Lavarnway has a history of success in his two previous minor-league seasons, having hit 21 and 22 homers in 2009 and 2010, respectively, so this isn’t out-of-nowhere output. Lavarnway’s main red flags on offense are a fairly high K rate (25%) and the unsustainably-high .410 BABIP at Triple-A, which means his .364 BA at Pawtucket — the first time he’s hit above .289 at any stop — is the mirage behind his barrage. Still, the power and plate discipline (13% BB) is very much for real, making Lavarnway an intriguing fantasy play if he can actually stick at catcher. Many, though, think that’s a long shot, which would obviously affect his fantasy value beyond 2011. But for this year, he’ll be behind the dish if he gets the call. Therein lies the rub, though, as he may just be a September call-up who gets limited PT, considering the Red Sox are as unlikely to suddenly give the reins to a rook down the stretch as they are to carry a third catcher alongside Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek. Barring injury or trade — Lavarnway himself is potential bait, which would make him much more intriguing almost immediately — the hope here is for an opp to use Lavarnway as a second catcher in AL-only play for a few weeks. In short, he’s a better keeper option.

ETA: Roster expansion in September seems like the only possibility here, and even then, Lavarnway may only come up for a brief trial.

Chien-Ming Wang, SP
Organization: Nationals
Current Level: Majors
Statistics: 2-1 W-L; 3.14 ERA; 1.12 WHIP; 17:4 K:BB over 28 2/3 IPs (in minors)
40-man roster: Yes
Opportunity Rating: 8
Talent Rating: 5
Obstacle(s): Lengthy recovery from serious injuries

Later today, the Nationals will be starting a pitcher who hasn’t thrown a pitch in the major leagues since July 4, 2009. What’s more, he hasn’t pitched effectively in the bigs since a year before that — yes, all the way back to when Brandon Webb was still a dominating force. I mention Webb for three reasons: 1) he, like this pitcher, owned one of baseball’s best sinkers; 2) he’s also battling back from shoulder surgery (in fact, Webb just underwent a second procedure); and 3) it’s not often a pitcher dealing with shoulder problems even returns at all after such a long hiatus. But that’s what Chien-Ming Wang is attempting to do today. Formerly an ace-caliber pitcher for the Yankees — in what surely must seem like another life — Wang, now 31, has re-emerged with the Nationals after missing half of 2008 with a sprained Lisfranc ligament in his foot, then most of 2009 and all of 2010 while recovering from major shoulder surgery. While the stats and reports have been encouraging — including a fastball that’s reached 94 on occasion — the Taiwanese right-hander has yet to throw more than 6 innings in any start, and the Nats’ hands are tied by the fact that he was up against the 30-day maximum rehab period. This is a great story, and I’m rooting for Wang to show enough against the Mets (and in any subsequent outings) that he can resuscitate what was once a very promising career, but I’ve brought him to your attention mainly for that purpose. I don’t think there’s much, if any, fantasy value here for this season, even in deep NL-onlies — remember, this is a guy who struck out just 4.2/9. But it would be great to see some signs that he could be relevant again next season.

ETA: Today.


If you have any suggestions for minor leaguers that you would like to see tracked, discussed and evaluated in Mining the Minors, feel free to post suggestions in the comments section. I’ll do my best to get to as many as I can.

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Jason Catania is an MLB Lead Writer for Bleacher Report who also contributes to ESPN The Magazine, ESPN Insider and MLB Rumor Central, focusing on baseball and fantasy content. When he was first introduced to fantasy baseball, Derek Jeter had 195 career hits, Jamie Moyer had 72 wins and Matt Stairs was on team No. 3. You can follow him on Twitter: @JayCat11

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Giavotella’s teammates call him Gia, which is way better than Giavy.

I’m hoping that Doug Melvin will realize that Getz is the PERFECT stop-gap during Rickie Weeks’ recovery. After all, Dayton Moore got him to take Yuniesky Betancourt.