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Reddick’s time is right now

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / June 22, 2011

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He’s 24 years old, five years into his career in the Red Sox system, and finally, Josh Reddick is on the radar.

He’s long been on the fringes behind Jacoby Ellsbury and Ryan Kalish. He was thought of as a guy who could stick on a major league roster as an extra outfielder.

Now, however, people in baseball believe the lefthanded-hitting Reddick is maturing into a player who could start in the majors.

“I always thought that I had the ability to play every day in the big leagues,’’ Reddick said after going 2 for 4 with a double and a triple and an RBI in Boston’s 5-4 loss to San Diego last night at Fenway Park. “It’s a process. You build up to it and you play the game and learn every step of the way and hopefully that gets you to where you want to be.’’

As his maturity and reputation grow, Reddick will either play his way onto the roster or be used as trade bait if the Red Sox need a piece or two to fuel their second-half run.

Also, J.D. Drew is in the final year of his contract and won’t be in Boston next season. Although that spot has been earmarked for Kalish, Reddick is making a case.

Reddick has shown power in his minor league stops — 18 home runs at Single A Greenville, 17 at Single A Lancaster, 13 at Double A Portland, and 18 last season at Triple A Pawtucket. When he was recalled to Boston for the second time this season last Saturday, he had 14 homers, 36 RBIs, 24 extra base hits, and an .841 OPS. He played most of his 49 games in center field, where he is comfortable, but the Sox moved him around so he’d be able to play the corners.

With Carl Crawford on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, Reddick has stepped in against righthanded pitchers, starting last night’s game hitting .412 with six RBIs.

“I think I’ve been blessed with strength and I know I’ve spent more time in the weight room and stayed on a regular routine,’’ Reddick said. “I have to credit my former roommate, Mark Wagner, for getting me to eat right and to stay focused on the things I need to do to remain on top of my game.’’

He tripled and doubled (a ball he crushed to the center-field wall) last night, but he also stranded two runners in the seventh when he got eager and grounded to first base to end a threat.

“[Chad Qualls] has excellent movement on his pitches and he got me to roll one over to the right side,’’ said Reddick.

He made one excellent diving catch to rob Jason Bartlett in the sixth, but also looked awkward going back on a ball that he leaped for and missed against the Wall in the third inning.

All season, scouts who have watched Reddick have had strong opinions.

Most of them are positive.

The concerns?

He can go into prolonged slumps.

“That’s the one thing he has to be consistent with,’’ said one American League scout at Fenway last night. “He can go up to the plate in any given at-bat with a real idea of what he wants to do, and then he’ll go through a stretch where he’s really lost and off balance and can’t get himself squared away. But I’ll tell you, he’s worth a gamble for some team to give up something, because what you’re getting could wind up being very good.’’

Reddick was a 17th-round pick out of Middle Georgia College in 2006, where he hit .461 as a freshman. The Sox like his dirtdog attitude and when he flashes a nice swing that generates not only gap power but home run power, it turns heads.

The Sox outfield is very lefthanded with Carl Crawford here for the next seven years, Ellsbury in center, and Reddick and Kalish.

The Sox have the resources to replace Drew’s $14 million salary with another outfielder, but they are mindful of internal options available.

In the next few weeks, Reddick has a great opportunity to state his case. He has little left to prove in Triple A. He plays major-league caliber defense now and has hit the ball on the button lately.

“I think all of us would rather play center field, but I’m just happy to be able to play all three spots and help this team wherever I can,’’ said Reddick. “That’s the situation I’m in right now and I have to take advantage of the opportunities I get.’’

Reddick has done that. He’s hitting .429 with seven RBIs in 21 at-bats. With Crawford out, he’s expected to face a lot of righthanders and his early results have made Crawford’s absence bearable.

“He’s one of those players who keeps coming on. Maybe when he started you saw some of the talent, but every kid grows up in a different way and at a different pace,’’ said one National League scout. “Reddick is a guy you would recommend for your team if you need an outfielder. He’s a strong kid and he does a nice job.’’

Teams such as Washington could use a center fielder, and although the Nationals may be thinking bigger, like B.J. Upton, Reddick could be an interesting option. Whatever happens, Reddick’s confidence level is high. It’s taken five years in the minors, taking his lumps, hearing the naysayers. Whether he’s been motivated by that or whether his time simply has come, Reddick doesn’t care.

“You have to keep proving yourself. I don’t think I’ll ever stop doing that,’’ he said.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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