The Red Sox currently are conducting their annual Rookie Development Program. The program typically includes some of the top prospects in the organization who the club believes could make their big league debuts in a 12- to 18-month time frame. Over the course of two weeks, the Sox will work to prepare the group of prospects for a potential call-up, giving the group an opportunity to work with members of the major league coaching staff, to work on strength and conditioning as well as fundamentals, and a chance to become familiar with such details as the layout of the clubhouse at Fenway Park.
Over the duration of the program, WEEI.com will profile some of the prospects taking part in the Rookie Development Program. Today: Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish, two outfielders selected in the 2006 draft who rank among the top position players in the Red Sox organization.
It took little time for Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish to become good friends once they entered the Red Sox system, and with good reason. As the two outfield prospects see it, their games are so similar that they couldn’t help but identify with one another.
Kalish (9th round) and Reddick (17th) were selected by the Sox late in the 2006 draft. Both show the potential to be impact hitters from the left side of the plate. Both possess the speed and athleticism to play all three outfield positions.
Both impressed in their time in big league spring training in 2009 before making huge developmental strides during the regular season. In the process, the 21-year-old Kalish and 22-year-old Reddick — both of whom are taking part in the Red Sox Rookie Development Program — cemented their status among the top prospects in Boston’s pipeline.
And so, perhaps, it does not come as a great surprise that the two outfielders have a difficult time defining what separates them.
“I feel like we have a lot of similarities,” Kalish said. “Honestly, it’s tough to say [what the differences are].”
“I think we’re pretty much the same player,” Reddick agreed. “We play all out. We’re not afraid to run into the wall. And we don’t take anything for granted. There’s not much difference there.”
That’s not quite true. Both players achieve excellent results and have thrust themselves into the conversation about possible futures as everyday players in the majors. But their natural approaches in the plate and field are dissimilar.
Reddick has tremendous hand-eye coordination that has allowed him to make consistent, hard contact in the minors regardless of the location of pitches within — and sometimes outside of — the strike zone. Ever since Reddick started hitting with a wood bat, the ball has jumped on contact for him.
The Georgia native is an aggressive hitter who has worked diligently to improve his plate discipline. His most notable jump came last year, when he improved his walk rate from once every 15.3 plate appearances in 2008 to once every 11.3 trips to the plate in 2009. That, in turn, helped him to put up strong numbers in Double A (.277/.352/.520/.871 with a dozen homers) that led to a pair of call-ups to the majors.
Kalish, on the other hand, has always been a disciplined hitter. He led the organization last year with 68 walks. For him, it was power that only recently started to emerge.
“[Reddick] has got confidence that, when he swings, he doesn’t mess around,” Kalish said. “We have a little bit of a different approach. Both things work pretty well.”
Kalish broke his right hamate in 2007. After offseason surgery, he was unable to engage in normal strength training, and so despite a solid OBP in 2008 (.365), he exhibited almost no pop (.363 slugging) while playing through pain.
That changed in a big way in 2009. Kalish swatted five homers in 32 games with high-A Salem, then launched 13 more longballs after a promotion to the Portland Sea Dogs, 12 of which came after July.
Kalish joined a short list of players age 21 and under to reach double digits in homers in the Eastern League since 2000, joining a group that includes such stars as Adrian Gonzalez, Grady Sizemore, Justin Morneau and David Wright (though also some flame-outs such as Eric Duncan and Anderson Machado). His understanding of the strike zone has afforded him the ability to identify pitches to drive.
“I’ve heard it from a million people: ‘We think we can get power out of you,’” Kalish said this offseason. “Until this year, I never really thought it would actually happen.
“Once I started it, I knew it would keep going. It was an awesome surprise to add it to my game. Last year, I feel like, almost similar season as far as average, but when you add home runs and score a lot of runs, stay on the field, it’s an awesome combination.
“In years past, I concentrated on guiding the ball to the opposite field. It’s good to hit the ball to the opposite field, but to make money in the big leagues, you’ve got to hit home runs, and pulling the ball is where it’s at. I got a lot more aggressive.”
Defensively, both have played all three outfield positions. The Sox want them both to spend as much time as possible in center while also familiarizing them with the corners so that they can be plugged in should any of their starters suffer an injury.
“They’re both very good outfielders. They’re very different,” Sox farm director Mike Hazen said. “Ryan’s more of a traditional outfielder — pretty good speed, pretty good instincts, he gets good jumps and he’s got a pretty good arm.
"Josh is a little more of the spectacular. He’s fearless. He’s aggressive. He’s got a lightning-quick release, a very strong and accurate arm, he’s got good speed, he’s probably a tick quicker than Ryan is. I think both are going to be very solid center fielders in time.”
Reddick, who struggles to keep weight on during and even after the season (a running regimen dropped his weight to 176 pounds at one point this winter), looks the part of a center fielder. That said, his range, strong arm and quick release have generated an incredible number of assists (roughly one every five games in the minors) and would translate well to right field or center.
Kalish, who was recruited to the University of Virginia as a quarterback, looks the part of a football player. For now, his powerful frame has not hindered his agility, and so he has proven capable of competent play in center as well as the corners.
Whether that remains the case in the future is something of an open question. In theory, if Kalish gets too big to play center, it would diminish his value. Some talent evaluators wonder whether he has the bat to be an everyday corner outfielder in the majors. The Sox, however, suggest that if Kalish outgrows center field, his increased production as a hitter will offset any diminished versatility.
“Ryan’s definitely gotten bigger. That’s certainly benefitted the power. So, do we think [he can play center]? Yes, we do. Five years from now, if he puts on another 20 pounds? Maybe not,” Hazen said. “But ultimately the power will clearly make up for that. I still don’t think he’ll lose the athleticism and first-step quickness.
“The one thing we talk about with Ryan is the need for him to continue to remain in center field, and how important his quickness and agility is to him. That’s something that continues to be a developmental focus for us. If we feel that Ryan is a 25- to 30-stolen base guy, which Ryan definitely has the quickness and instincts to do, then he’s a real impact player, because we think he’s going to hit for a little bit of power and he’ll hit for average and he controls the strike zone.”
The two have been teammates as they have moved up the minor league ladder together, and chances are their paths will cross again this year. The Sox want Reddick to have a chance to develop in Pawtucket this year. Kalish, if he can sustain his progress from 2009, seems likely to join Reddick in Triple A.
Based on their performances last year, the two are knocking on the door to the majors, a notion reflected by their participation in the Rookie Development Program. Both are well aware that, with J.D. Drew in the last two years of his deal and Mike Cameron in Boston on a two-year contract, there could be outfield vacancies in the coming years.
Reddick and Kalish have considered the possibility that they end up as teammates in the Boston outfield. At the same time, there is an understanding that their comparable skill sets — combined with the Sox’ aggressiveness in the trade market — could prevent such an outcome from occurring.
“Hopefully it works out where we’re with the same team with these guys,” Reddick said. “It could or could not work out. For me, I try not to look into that stuff that’s so far ahead.”
“Obviously, you never know what they might do in the future with trades. They might trade myself or Josh or anyone here for someone big,” Kalish added. “I try to stay away from looking into that. I just try to do my thing. Hopefully what I do is good enough.”