Trenton, New Jersey - Ryan Kalish embraces the role of leader, even down to the position he plays. If the Red Sox see the 22-year-old as a future center fielder, he'd be happy with that. But he's not stuck on it either. He's focused on becoming a better player.
"Obviously as an outfielder, you want to be a center fielder," he said before a game at Waterfront Park, between the Trenton Thunder and Portland Sea Dogs. "That's more responsibility. You want to have more responsibility. But on any given day, whether I'm playing right, left or center, I just like being out there."
"When he first got here,there were just a lot of situations he wasn't aware of," said Portland hitting coach Dave Joppie. "For example, when to throw to the cutoff guy and when to throw to second base. And to know when not to. Don't force and create things. That was one thing he did a little bit when he got here."
In 103 games for Portland in 2009 he stole 41 bases, and finished the season hitting .271, with 106 hits, 19 of them doubles. As fast as he is, he still feels he's getting the hang of how to better approach his running game.
"At the lower levels it's like a natural type thing, it's more instinctual. But now it's becoming about getting better reads and it depends on what kind of catcher they have. It's a whole different game now," said Kalish.
"He didn't know when to take his foot off the gas pedal. He's made a tremendous adjustment with that," said Joppie. "[Speed] just comes natural to him. He's gifted in getting good jumps on pitchers."
The Red Sox 2006 9th round pick, was named the organization's Minor League Player of the Year in 2009 and participated in the Rookie Development Program. He's already off to a great star in 2010, hitting .238 and began the season going on a 3-game hitting streak, in which he hit .333. He is also used as a DH, with his ability to hit for some power to all parts of the field
Joppie sees overall improvement in every aspect of Kalish's ability.
"He's become a much better student of the game. He came in here with a lot of talent and raw ability. Now things are starting to get polished," Joppie said.
"Defensively the biggest thing he's learned, is how to run and control the outfield,' continued Joppie. "He's done a tremendous job in running situations and keeping double plays in order. He knows when to show the arm off and when not to. His routes and jumps have always been very good. He's become a much smarter and more intelligent outfielder. And he's gotten better at reading swings."
He could be ready to get big league playing time in 2011, but there's a strong possibility he'll begin the season at the Triple-A level. He appears to be on the fast track, and although Kalish wants to be in the majors like any other player, he's not worried about getting there fast.
"I want to make the big leagues and I care a lot about what people think. But it's just another challenge," said the Red Bank New Jersey native. "We've got to get to the big leagues first, and then there's tons of stuff that comes with that. You have to learn to balance it all out. I know guys who've gone up to the big leagues, and I try to learn from them how to deal with it better."
The psychological aspect of the game is less coachable, but when a young player is as self-motivated and focused as Kalish, it becomes easier. He has a good grasp of his developmental needs. And he's putting himself in the best position to be ready when the Red Sox need him.
"I just have to stay more consistent. I really want to work on mechanical issues. You have to keep it up even if you're in a down period," said Kalish.
Kalish isn't concerned with when he makes his Major League debut, even as excitement builds around him.
"It's hard to go into the season saying you want to make the big leagues, I just want to get better than last year," he said. "There's always things to improve. It's all about keeping an even keel."
*Originally run in April 2010