Image: TCP Photography/Courtesy Lake County Captains See the full scouting report on Bryan Lavastida, Indians Baseball Insider’s 13th ranked prospect in the 2021 midseason rankings Change and moving quickly have […]
Image: TCP Photography/Courtesy Lake County Captains
Change and moving quickly have been a constant theme for Bryan Lavastida since Cleveland drafted him in the 15th round of the 2018 draft out of Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, Florida.
At Hillsborough, Lavastida was a shortstop and a third baseman and ended up behind the plate for a few games late in his only season at the JUCO before Cleveland drafted him and put him behind the plate full time. For a player with next to zero background in catching, Lavastida adapted well in a short amount of time. The early feedback showed he could handle the transition and he’s continued to grow, even with the lost year of 2020 due to the padnemic
“I feel like I came a long way from when I first started,” Lavastida. “I feel comfortable catching these guys. I feel comfortable calling games. Now I look in the mirror as a Double-A catcher now and I’m comfortable as that.”
In 2018, he caught 235 innings in the Arizona Rookie League as a 19 year old, then in 2019 caught 327, and then in 2021 so far he’s caught over 360 innings and counting.
While Lavastida has obviously put an emphasis on his defensive growth, as the organization would prefer, perhaps more impressive than his defensive progression has been that his bat remains steady and impressive. The defensive work hasn’t stymied his bat one bit, as most thought he would be a bat first backstop out of the draft.
In 2019 at mostly short-season Mahoning Valley, he showed the zone awareness of a player who walked more than he struck out in college and good contact skills, putting up a .335/.408/.483 line with 27 strikeouts and 25 walks in 240 plate appearances.
Lavastida was not part of the Alternate Training Site in 2020 but that didn’t slow his progression down much. He started 2021 at High-A, skipping Low-A and took off offensively, hitting .309/.399/.467 with five homers, 30 strikeouts and 26 walks in 198 plate appearances (15.2 K% and 13.1 BB%). The bat forced Cleveland to push Lavastida to Double-A Akron quickly.
His timeline as a player so far looks like this:
2018: JUCO infielder, switched to catcher late in season, drafted in 15th round by Cleveland, starts as a catcher in pro ball in rookie league.
2019: Catches at Short-Season A with a brief Low-A cameo
2020: Didn’t play due to pandemic
2021: Started at High-A and promoted to Double-A after 48 games.
That’s a quick movement for a JUCO infielder switching to one of the most demanding defensive positions, while missing a full year of development.
“I’m really happy to be here,” Lavastida said of the promotion to Double-A. “The pace of game is a little different. I’m getting adjusted to it now. It’s very fun….It’s a lot quicker. Guys get in the box quicker. Everything works quicker.”
As of this story, Lavastida is hitting .390/.435/.561 at Double-A in 47 plate appearances (August 14, 2021). Being selective at the plate while making consistently, quality contact has been a hallmark of Lavastida’s offensive skills along with burgeoning power.
“I’m just taking what’s being given to me,” Lavastida said about his mature offensive approach. “A lot of times, I’m in a crucial spot in the line and I’m not getting what I want (in at bats), but I’m just taking what’s given to me and getting in good counts. I let them come to me and not dig myself into a hole.”
Lavastida looks relaxed at the plate, with very relaxed hands out near his shoulder and a modest load, quick, simple swing. His hands are quiet with little wasted movement with good separation between the hands and hips. It creates a very fluid, connected swing that allows him to make a high amount of contact to go with a mature approach. He’s able to spoil breaking pitches but driving them looks to be the next step in his offensive growth. Strong hands allow him to drive the ball to the opposite field with power and he has shown that he’s able to turn on pitches to his pull side, which is also another area where he’ll look to continue growth in. There are balls he drives to the opposite field with power that he could turn on with power.
In 2019, Lavastida showed pop times that could range right around the desired 2.00 (time from catching the ball to the ball getting into the glove of the fielder at second base), seen from 1.99 to 2.07. As a former third baseman, Lavastida has enough arm to stay behind the plate as long as he continues to progress with his mechanics and release.
Where the Hialeah, FL native has grown the most, are his receiving skills. At the time of his promotion from High-A Lake County, Lavastida led the level (throughout baseball) with +7.3 framing runs according to Baseball Prospectus’ catching stats. Framing was a focus for him while he was trying to improve without playing in 2020.
“The whole off year, my big emphasis was on receiving,” he said. “One pitch could change the count. That could change the at bat and the at bat could change the game. I took it personally. that being the weakest part of my game. I took it personally. So I’m bettering that and also keeping everything else the same. I’m glad it’s paying off.”
Receiving has been more than about framing for Lavastida. He’s also trying to be a complete catcher and give his pitcher’s confidence to trust him no matter what happens during the pitch. The Captains pitching staff before his promotion consistently praised the job he did calling and receiving for them all year. He had just five passed balls in 305 innings after eight in 318 innings in 2019.
“The emphasis with a runner on second getting a stable secondary is both being able to receive a low pitch, keep it a strike and being attentive enough to anticipate a ball being in the dirt and keeping it in front and keep the runner from advancing,” the 22 year old backstop said.
He was ninth in High-A in blocking runs at 0.5, but -0.3 in throwing runs. That issue could have been due to the new rule in High-A where pitchers have to completely disengage with the rubber before throwing over to attempt a pickoff move, as opposed to just stepping and throwing over on the normal rule. This is an experimental rule for now, but stolen bases are way up in High-A.
In 2019 at Short-Season A, he threw out 20 of 56 base stealers (35%). In 2021, he threw out nine of 46 at High-A. So far in Akron, he’s taken down two of seven (28%).
“It had some effect on it,” Lavastida said of the pickoff rule making it harder for catchers to keep the run game in check. Pitchers home times to home with runners leads on first had some effect. It’s there and not where I want to be. It’s another thing I can’t slack on. Throwing comes naturally for me….I notice the difference (in Double-A). Guys run less because they have to get a good jump off the pitcher. In High-A they can get a big league with pitchers times to home being 1.3 or 1.4 (seconds) and the runners are off.”
Background helps Lavastida as a teammate
While Lavastida was born in Florida, his parents are from Cuba and he is fluently bilingual. This is often a major boost for a lot of players, but this should be especially effective for catchers. Cleveland doesn’t boast a lot of Spanish speaking pitchers in the system, but as the captain of the defense and trying to be a good teammate in the clubhouse, being bilingual is good for everything Lavastida does on and off the field.
“It allows me to get along with everyone in the clubhouse, no matter where you’re from or what language you speak,” he said. “I get to help some of my Dominican friends. Maybe their English isn’t as good so I’m here to help them and bring the team together. At some levels, we have some guys whose English isn’t so good, so I can lend them a hand.”
What’s next for Lavastida
Going into the winter, Lavastida is Rule 5 eligible for the first time. Barring anything unforeseen (trade, etc.) he seems like a surefire lock to be protected by being added to Cleveland’s 40 man roster. That is often a big year for players with that coming up, and without the benefit of a 2020 season, it’s even more critical for a player, especially a catcher like Lavastida who is still learning a new position, and for the teams’ decision.
“I’ve taken the mindset in my game last in the last two years, my emphasis ist just being the best me possible day in and out,” Lavastiada said of not thinking about his roster status this winter. “It’s the same way on the field here – control little things. If you control the little things, everything is going to fall into place. Just control the controllables. Live day by day and be the best me I can.”
Another part of that equation now that he’s in Akron, is that he is playing with fellow 2018 draft pick, Cleveland’s first rounder that year, Bo Naylor. Lavastida and Naylor are alternating days catching, usually with the other getting into the lineup as the DH if they aren’t given a day off. Naylor, because of his age, isn’t Rule 5 eligible until 2022, so he doesn’t have to be added to the 40 man roster this winter like Lavastida does, but that decision next year will come between having two catching prospects on the 40 man roster.
Despite all of that looming and being on the same team as another top catching prospect in the organization, none of that has affected Lavastda’s performance or mindset.
“We worked hard for three months in Arizona,” he said of his relationship with Naylor.” We knew we were in this together. We better each other. What he’s working on, I’m working on. What I see in him, I’ll tell him. What he sees in me, he’ll tell me. We see it as a partnership. Catching is a very demanding position. We want to be the best us we can possibly be to help our team. It’s gotten us both to positive strides to where we want to be. We got drafted the same year. We’ve been together for a long time. We’re just hoping to see where we can get to.”
For now, Lavastida is having a better 2021 statistically, where Naylor had a tough start to the year with his swing. At 21, where Lavastida has gotten himself to a position where he has to be a 40-man lock this winter with his defensive growth while his offense continues to be as good as advertising and growing, a player every team is paying attention to. That’s quite the leap for a player whose parents moved to the US from Cuba, that attended a JUCO as an infielder three years ago and without the ability to play in actual games in 2020.
The Bryan Lavastida File
DOB: 11/27/98 (Age 22)
Drafted: 15th round (463rd overall) 2018
College: Hillsborough Community College
Hobbies: Fishing in Florida, now golfing in Ohio
Career if not baseball: “I didn’t know what I’d do, but whatever it was, I was trying to be the best whatever. That’s my mentality on and off the baseball field. Try to be the best at whatever I do.”
Biggest influence: “My parent’s game over here. My whole family is from Cuba. My parents came here to give me a good life and opportunities. They are my biggest influence. Since day one, they’ve put me in a great spot. I’m grateful for that.”
Favorite movie: Benchwarmers
Favorite TV show: Rick and Morty
Walkup song: “It’s this Dominican artist, the lyrics in the song say ‘Lava, Lava, Lava’ (like his last name) like hot lava, and I just want to be reminded that I’m the best there is, so that’s my walkup song.”