Ryan Lavarnway, C
Maybe you aren't impressed by Lavarnway's overall 2012 line. But this would be a good time to remind you that, a little more than a month ago, Lavarnway was hitting .260/.360/.354 with just two homers and five extra-base hits overall in 114 plate appearances. A strong finish to May, and a torrid June, has him approaching the levels we expected him to be at. The backstop has a .404/.474/.754 line in June, with four of his seven homers, strikeouts just 15 percent of the time, and two fewer free passes than whiffs. It's been quite the correction to his season line.
Lavarnway hadn't ever struggled much or for very long in the minors, so the early-season scuffles were likely a positive development for him in the long run. It gave Lavarnway a chance to taste failure and respond to it with adjustments, and if these are those adjustments, then opposing pitchers are right back to being frightened of his bat. There's no rush to bring him to the majors, considering Jarrod Saltalamacchia is making a clear bid to be the starter both now and in the future, while backup Kelly Shoppach has been far better than anyone anticipated. But that's a good thing for Lavarnway, too, as he can continue to focus on keeping his bat right, and work on his defensive game and his first-time shot at being the primary catcher, too.
Junichi Tazawa, RP
Tazawa has an option, but it was Clayton Mortensen who received the call to the Red Sox bullpen when Franklin Morales temporarily shifted to the rotation in place of the injured Josh Beckett. Tazawa has mostly been better than his 3.31 ERA indicates, as he's allowed just 12 earned runs on the season, and five of those came in one two-inning appearance. His peripherals -- 11 strikeouts per nine, 2.7 K/BB, the ball staying in the park -- probably helped you realize that on your own, though.
He's too good for Triple-A, but that doesn't necessarily make him a perfect fit for the majors. It was encouraging that he showed good control and didn't allow a run during his 6-1/3 innings with Boston this year, but it's a small sample, and the lack of strikeouts was a little odd. He should get a chance to stick with the Red Sox at some point -- he's certainly earned it with his performance as a reliever with Triple-A the last two seasons -- but with Boston's bullpen stacked even without Andrew Bailey coming back just yet, it's tough to force him in there.
The good news is that he remains under team control, like Clayton Mortensen, so there's no need to rush pitching depth to the majors just for the sake of having it around there.
Mark Prior, RP
Prior is certainly making himself heard down in Pawtucket, and unlike Tazawa, he's not under team control in the long-term: should the Red Sox have a need for another reliever besides the ones who are currently with the club, there's a chance Prior could be the one getting the call. It's not all perfect -- he does have eight walks in nine innings pitched, and only one of those was intentional -- but it's hard to not notice the 20 strikeouts in nine innings, punch outs of half the batters he's faced in 2012.
If he was doing half that well in terms of punch outs, and could lower that walk rate, he'd be impressive still. It's not often you get to say it would be okay for someone to halve their strikeout rate and have it be truthful. The 31-year-old hasn't been in the majors since 2006, and while you won't see much in the way of fanboyish-ness here in these minor-league updates, I must admit that I'm rooting heavily for Prior to see the bigs once more, if only for a single appearance this year. Here's hoping his shoulder allows him to stay on the mound.