Friday, November 20, 2009

Top prospect Kalish just keeps on keeping on

Outfielder Josh Reddick entered the consciousness of casual Red Sox fans a year ago when he made the jump from Double-A to the major leagues to make some appearances in the Red Sox outfield.

Ryan Kalish might be next in line.

The Red Sox drafted Kalish in the ninth round in 2006, the same season in which they drafted Reddick in the 17th round and Lars Anderson in the 18th round. Much like with Anderson, the Red Sox took a flier on a top talent who was considered a solid commit to a big-time college -- Kalish had a chance to play both football and baseball at Virginia -- and lured him to sign with a six-figure signing bonus.

Kalish jumped from Single-A to Double-A this season and just wrapped up a stint in the Arizona Fall League in which he hit .301 with a .384 on-base percentage in 73 at-bats. I caught up with him on the phone on Tuesday, a couple of days before his Mesa Solar Sox finished their season.

What's the biggest thing you've learned out in Arizona?
It’s just the level of competition you have to keep up with. There are so many good players out here. It shows you you need to work harder –- or try to work harder –- than everybody else. I’m seeing things I only see sometimes during the regular season. Every player has a chance to do something extremely special every time they come up or are on the mound. That’s the level of competition I’m dealing with, so I just have to keep working hard.

Was that a surprise or is that what you expected?
That’s what I came here expecting. Honestly, I’ve always known there were good players out there, and I’ve always known I had to work hard. This just reiterates the fact that it’s really true.

Did you have a certain focus for what you wanted to accomplish out there?
Well, I did what I needed to do during the season. Coming out here, I just wanted to have continued success – and I don’t look at my success by numbers. I look at success by my at-bats, like if I am seeing the ball well. Every single day, I’m seeing a No. 1 or a No. 2 or a really good reliever out of the pen, and that can only be a benefit for next year. Aaron Bates and Josh Reddick struggled here. It’s a testament to them that they came back this year -– and look at what happened to them in getting to the big leagues. For me, it’s not the success. It’s the experience. They’re both great players, but this helped them get to the big leagues. I’m positive of that.

Is there anything you specifically wanted to work on?
I just wanted to keep it up. The things I was working on during the season are never going to change. You’re always going to see flaws in the things you do, and you’ve got to be able to pick them out. My goal is to keep continuing to get better on the things I did this year. I haven’t changed anything. I’ve been having some pretty good at-bats over the past few weeks, and it’s been a tough thing for me here because you sometimes get two or three days off in a row before you go out there and play. It’s tough to keep a rhythm that way. But that’s just aprt of this league. I don’t think many people are looking so much at the numbers as the experience.

Is it difficult, after a long season, to still play at a high level like this in November?
Well, I played in Hawaii last year. It’s about how much you want it, really. You’re going to have to come out here with the drive and want to keep it up. You’ve got to keep going, and you’ve got to keep moving. There are guys playing in the Dominican and Venezuela who are in the same boat. That’s part of the experience. I don’t spend a lot of time at home in the offseason – and especially when you’re a so-called prospect, you’re not going to be home as much.

Have you been able to pick up anything playing with the guys in other organizations on your roster?
Meeting Bryan Peterson, he and I have really struck it off well. I’ve gotten a lot of things from him, and we’ve given each other some things. I always like to meet new people because we can just pick up little things from each other. We’ve talked about some little things at the plate. It’s nothing like, ‘I don’t like your swing,’ because we have totally different ways of hitting. But it’s all about getting better at the game. He’s leading the league in average, I think, and to make friends with a guy like that, we’ve helped each other get better.

(When this interview was conducted, Peterson was leading the league in hitting. The Florida Marlins prospect finished the Arizona Fall League season with a .379 batting average, fourth among all hitters out there.)

In the outfield, he’s helped me with my throwing. I’ve had a couple of people tell me that my arm looks a little bit stronger, and the things we’ve talked about have increased my arm strength.

When do you have those conversations? Is it in the cage or during outfield drills or during games?
It’s the whole time – during our throwing program when we’re getting loose before a game or when we’re taking infield and outfield. It’s an all-the-time thing. During the game, I’ll go up to him and ask him, ‘Hey, do you think that was the right play?’ He’ll tell me straight up. People are going to be out there trying to help me, but some people fish for compliments – and we’re straight up with each other. He comes up to me and asks, ‘Do you think that’s a strike?’, maybe, on a pitch he took. I’ll tell him, ‘Yeah, I think it was.’

When you look back at yourself as a player a year ago and compare it to yourself as a player now, what's the biggest difference?
I had a more aggressive approach than it used to be. Between 2008 and 2009, my strikeout numbers stayed the same. My ratio in 2009 was actually a little bit better –- well, you can check that out. But I had a more aggressive approach. This year, I was trying to drive the ball more. In 2008, I was just trying to make contact and flick balls over the infielders’ heads. I had more of a mental approach this year where, ‘If I see this pitch, I’m going to absolutely destroy it,’ and that definitely helps me. My power went up this year, and, hopefully, that will continue.

You've only hit one home run in Arizona. Is there anything you can attribute that to, or is that something you don't worry about?
It might be the competition. It might be not getting into a rhythm. But I’m not really worried about it. It’s just an experience.

You told Baseball Prospectus that your teammates call you a caveman because of the way you try not to think too much. Where does that come from?
A lot of it comes from my approach as a football player. If you get caught in the numbers – your failure rate is going to be more than your success rate, so I just feel like I’ve got to go out there and try to attack the pitch and drive the ball. It’s difficult going out there and always looking up at the scoreboard and seeing what I’m doing. That’s not who I am as a player. I want to go up to the plate and think about hitting the ball hard – if it goes over the fence or goes back to the pitcher. It’s not about hits. If you just think about hits, you’re not going to succeed in this game.

That seems like it could be easier said than done. How do you make that happen?
For me, I’m really good at it just because this is a game. I’m playing baseball for a living. It’s not that having a desk job would stink, but in my life, I’m not ready for that. There are guys fighting a war in Iraq, and it’s like, ‘Really? We’re playing a game. It’s not that big of a deal.’ I’m really enjoying everything, and if I keep things in perspective, it’s pretty easy not to get caught up in all the numbers.

What do you feel like you have to do to make the type of jump that Josh Reddick made last year?
The same exact thing I did this year. I’ve been keeping it simple, and that’s what I want to do. I want to stick with my aggressive approach. You’re always going to have adjustments to your swing, but I want to continue to have the success I had last year. My focus is to keep it up exactly the way it’s been going.

What's the plan from here? What do you do the rest of the winter?
It’s been a long season, but while I’ve been out here, my lifting schedule – all of my working out has been a little bit lax because we don’t really have a gym. I’m going to live in the weight room as soon as I get home. I’m going to take three or four weeks from all baseball activity, but as soon as I get home, I’m living in the gym for 24 hours. I’m going to get strengthened up and get my speed going, do my speed work. I want to be able to play all three positions at all times, and you have to be fast to play center field. I’ll be working out hard.

Is that different from last year, or is that something you usually do?
It’s the same thing as last year. I didn’t really take any time off coming out of Hawaii. I did some light workouts while I was there, but this year, it’s the same thing – I’ll go home and get strong and get fast and get ready for the season.

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