(Here’s a weekend web-only exclusive. You won’t find this in the paper.)
Ryan Kalish was in Boston for The Jimmy Fund’s “New Stars for Young Stars” fundraiser on Jan. 9. Later that day, he was one of the panelists at the Hot Stove Cool Music roundtable discussion at Fenway Park.
Then came two weeks in the team’s rookie development program before he represented the organization during two days of hot stove events in Pawtucket this weekend. So much for a vacation.
“This is all part of it,” Kalish said on Friday in Pawtucket. “But it’s fun. All of this, the attention, it’s not a bad thing. I’m having fun with it, to be honest with you. These last two weeks are great in terms of getting you ready. I think its unbelievable that the Red Sox do this for us. It’s not something that all teams do.”
Kalish, who turns 22 in March, was selected in the ninth round of the 2006 draft and given a $600,000 bonus to turn down a scholarship to Virginia. A raw athlete who played three sports in high school in New Jersey, the Red Sox have developed his baseball skills methodically. Here’s his progression so far:
2006: Gulf Coast League, then 35 at-bats at Lowell.
2007: Extended spring training, then Lowell.
2008: Low A Greenville, then 82 at-bats at High A Lancaster.
2009: High A Salem, then a quick promotion to Portland.
2010: The plan is to start Kalish at Portland then move him up to Pawtucket at some point.
The idea isn’t just for Kalish to get to the majors. It’s for him to get there, stay there and play. He’s one of those players Theo Epstein is building that infamous bridge to get to.
“Nothing is out of the realm of possibility for Ryan,” player development director Mike Hazen said. “He had a good second half in Portland. There’s a good chance he’ll start at Portland this season, but there’s also a chance he’ll be at Pawtucket. That’s not likely, but he’s a talented player. If he continues to take care of what he needs to take of, he’ll be (in Pawtucket) soon enough.”
Physically, Kalish feels ready for what is ahead. He hit 18 homers last season and stole 21 bases while drawing 68 walks. His power, as hoped, is blossoming. The Red Sox have used him 118 games in center field and 99 in right, leaving him comfortable in either position. Now he needs to hone the mental side of the game.
“Balancing the ups and downs, that’s what I need to work on. It’s something that can be hard,” he said. “Last year, I slumped when I got to Double-A. It wasn’t anything physical or anything mechanical with my swing. It was all mental. That has been the hardest thing for me. The physical side seems simple when compared to the mental side.”
Kalish has come to trust the lessons taught by Bob Tewksbury, the organization’s sports psychologist. Now the short-term goal is to get to Pawtucket and continue his climb.
“Obviously it would be one more step closer. I’m just trying to move up, just like everybody else. If I can do it at a young age, that would be great,” he said. “The Red Sox have given me a great opportunity and I ran with it. Hopefully I’ll keep running with it.”
I had to ask Kalish what he thought of Jose Iglesias, his teammate in the Arizona Fall League. Here is his scouting report:
“Great kid. He wants to become Americanized as soon as possible. He’s learning English quickly. He really gets it. He’s better than you’ve heard defensively. Unbelievable. Range, arm, hands. His hands are what makes him go. It’s scary what he can do with his glove. He doe
s extra drills because he’s a hard worker and we would sit there and watch him. I would just laugh. When you see something like that, you have to watch. He’s special.
“He’ll hit, too. He hit in Arizona and, shoot, that’s the hardest league to hit in minor league baseball. The pitchers there are close to the big leagues. The best of the best. He did well and held his own.”
Also had a nice chat (via translator Masai Takahashi) with Junichi Tazawa.
The 23-year-old pitched 25.1 innings in the majors last season and allowed 21 earned runs on 43 hits, including four home runs. But while the results were ugly, the experience was beyond what he expected after being signed out of semi-pro ball in Japan.
“I did not think I would be in the majors so quickly,” said Tazawa, who had a 2.55 ERA in 20 minor league starts. “I wish I had pitched better, but I’m glad I had the chance.”
Tazawa enjoyed the speeches Kevin Youkilis and Terry Francona gave the players in the development program. “I learned a lot about what they expect from players,” he said. “I know I need to work on my intensity and my focus.”
Tazawa made his debut in Yankee Stadium on Aug. 7, entering a scoreless game in the 14th inning. He worked out of a jam in that inning before Alex Rodriguez beat him with a walk-off home run with two outs in the 15th.
I told Tazawa that the Yankees were impressed with how he pitched that night and he smiled. After learning I had covered the Yankees, he asked about Hideki Matsui and Derek Jeter. Facing them, he said, was the thrill of his career.
“I hope I can do it again this season,” he said. “But this time we win the game.”