Injury-ravaged and forced to rely upon the likes of Jeremy Hermida and Darnell McDonald, the Boston Red Sox outfield hasn’t stood out at the plate. Sox fly catchers have a collective .332 wOBA, fifth in the American League. Jacoby Ellsbury (ribs) has logged all of 45 plate appearances this season, while Mike Cameron (abdomen) also spent significant time on the DL. Ellsbury’s due back soon, and Cameron has been back in the fray for a while. But Boston decided to give Ryan Kalish a promotion yesterday, calling up the top prospect and DFA’ing Hermida.
A New Jersey prep product, Kalish was drafted in the ninth round back in 2006. The two-way player also starred on the grid iron and the hard court, and BA passed along a Chuck Norris Facts-esque tidbit that Kalish didn’t swing and miss at a single pitch as a high school senior. Though the athletic lefty batter had a strong commitment to the University of Virginia, the Sox coaxed him into turning pro with a $600,000 signing bonus.
Kalish didn’t take the field much in 2006 and 2007 — he signed August of ’06 for that above-slot bonus, then suffered a broken hamate bone in his right wrist on a HBP in July of ’07. The injury required surgery that September. Still, Kalish impressed, hitting .317/.406/.472 in 161 PA spent mostly in the New York-Penn League while stealing 20 bases in 23 attempts. BA commended his advanced plate discipline for a young, inexperienced farm talent, while also calling him a plus runner and throwing out a J.D. Drew comp.
In 2008, Kalish began the year rehabbing in extended spring training. After that, he spent most of the season in the low-A South Atlantic League while earning a promotion to High-A California League late in the year. He posted a .273/.365/.363 combined line in 502 PA, displaying keen strike zone awareness (12.2 BB%), K’ing 22.9% and rarely driving the ball (.090 ISO). That ’08 wrist injury played a prominent role in the lack of thump — BA said he “didn’t turn the bat loose like he had in the past, which had a pronounced effect on his power.” On the base paths, Kalish was successful in 19 of 23 tries.
Two-thousand nine would prove to be the 6-1, 205 pounder’s breakout year. In 580 PA divided between the High-A Carolina League and the Double-A Eastern League, Kalish batted .279/.364/.457. He stayed selective at the plate (11.7 BB%), but also sliced his strikeout rate slightly (21.1 K%) and hit with more authority (.178 ISO). Kalish was a high-percentage base stealer, too, with 21 SB in 27 attempts.
Kalish entered 2010 as the 96th-best prospect in the game according to Baseball America. John Sickels graded him as a B prospect, and ESPN’s Keith Law placed the 22-year-old 86th on his personal top 100 list. Law noted positive changes in Kalish’s swing since he signed with the club:
The Red Sox had to do a lot of work to help him find a consistent swing. Unfortunately, he had to do that work while recovering hand and wrist strength after the injury. He’s become a lot stronger since then, and his pitch recognition has also improved. The drift in his swing that affected his output in high school is gone, with much better weight transfer and good hip rotation, so while he’s not the quick, athletic teenager the Red Sox signed, he’s now a more polished overall hitter who’s already coming into some power and may add more.
Since then, Kalish has only improved his prospect standing. Starting the season back in Portland and then earning a call-up to Triple-A Pawtucket of the International League, Kalish has a .294/.382/.502 triple-slash in 343 PA. Patience (12.2 BB%), contact (18.1 K%), power (.208 ISO), speed (25 for 28 in SBs) — he has shown it all.
Kalish doesn’t have mammoth pop, and he’s now considered above-average in the speed department rather than a true burner (BA calls him a 55 runner on the 20-to-80 scouting scale). But he possesses an exceptionally well-rounded skill-set that makes him someone to target in keeper leagues. As for the present, it’s hard to say how prominent he is in the Red Sox’ plans. Will Ellsbury be 100% when he returns? Is Cameron only going to play semi-regularly as he continues to battle through injury problems of his own? It’s possible that there are enough open ABs there for Kalish to carve out a role. Keep an eye on how frequently Kalish cracks Boston’s lineup — he could be a nice late-season pickup.
A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.