When last season’s Top 11 prospects list for the Red Sox came out, Ryan Kalish just made the cut, grabbing the final slot as questions lingered about the toolsy outfielder’s recovery from hamate bone surgery. This season, Kalish has risen to fourth on the prospect list after the 21-year-old outfielder answered those questions in the affirmative. Kalish spent most of the year with the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs, reintroducing power to the former sixth-round pick’s well-rounded array of skills. He sat down and talked about his return to form and his maturation as a player on the final weekend of the minor league campaign.
David Laurila: Given your improved power numbers this season, it looks like your wrist injury is now behind you?
Ryan Kalish: The wrist is fine. In [Short-season] Lowell, in 2007, I started showing a little power, and then the wrist kind of put that on hold for a full year. I was feeling a little pain, but this year I finally got back to just being really aggressive and not worrying about my injuries. I was just letting go, and that kind of changed things for me. Like you said, I have increased power, which has been fun, and hopefully it will continue.
DL: Last year you told me that your wrist felt good, and that you couldn’t really explain why the power wasn’t there. In retrospect, were you in denial?
RK: To a point. I mean, in the beginning, like the first couple of months in Greenville, I really was feeling it. But then, for like… pretty much after the All-Star break, for the rest of the season it was pretty much gone. I just don’t know why it didn’t come back. Maybe it wasn’t totally healed, and it needed more time. It could have been a combination of a lot of things. I’m just really glad that time is in the past now.
DL: How much does it weigh on a player when all of sudden he can’t do something that he’s always done?
RK: It can weigh on some people pretty good. It’s hard, but now I just kind of look at it as an experience that I went through. David Ortiz went through it for a while. His wrist wasn’t feeling good, and now he’s back to being himself. That’s just how guys are. You go through a few things like that, and at the time you only see the downside of it, but in the long run, now I’m kind of feeling a little gain, because when you’re going through an injury, you have to use the same mental approach that you take every day, whether you’re feeling something or not. You play 140 games, so you’re often going to feel something. It’s not always going to be right.
DL: How do you view your power going forward? Are you looking to get stronger?
RK: Absolutely. Stronger and faster is my thing in the offseason. I’m going to do a ton of speed workouts and lifting. It’s every other day, speed, lift, speed, lift, with core between everything. I’m just trying to get stronger and keep it going, because I really feel like I’ve found some things to work on, like my swing. Obviously, I haven’t figured it out yet, because I’m not in the big leagues, but I definitely have found something to go off of.
DL: Earlier this season, Kevin Goldstein wrote that your biggest strength is that you don’t really have any weaknesses. Do you agree with that assessment?
RK: I don’t know. I think I have weaknesses. I couldn’t really name too many of them, but I just feel like I’ve become… obviously, there are little things in my swing that I have to tinker with, but I’m really learning the game mentally right now, and I feel that’s really helping those weaknesses that I might have had in the past. As for my strengths, I don’t feel that I do anything exceptionally great, like I don’t have a great arm, although I do have a good arm. I don’t really do too much outstandingly, like I’ve seen tons of guys do. But I do feel like I’ve worked on the mental side of my game, and that has really helped me to excel a little bit.
RK: Yeah. When you’re in high school, and you get drafted, you excel at that game. You do things that other guys can’t do. But when you get to Double-A ball, things catch up and you can’t just go out there and use your athletic ability to take over a game. You have to be smart and relaxed. I used to find myself being really tense and trying to do a lot-trying to do too much-a lot of times. This year, being around [Portland manager] Arnie [Beyler] and his staff taught me to pull on the reins a little bit and think about things before you do them. I’m still learning. I still have a ton to learn, but I feel that I’ve progressed a ton with the mental game, which includes relaxing and letting the game come to me, rather than trying to do too much.
DL: When the 2010 prospect rankings come out, you’ll be near the top of the Red Sox list. Will the extra attention that comes with that have any effect on you?
RK: No. I had attention in Lowell, which was pretty cool. Honestly, I’m trying to look at it differently than maybe some guys do. I’m trying to look at it as a blessing, you know. I’m blessed to be in the situation that I’m in. If those do come out and I’m pretty high up there, I’m going to take it for what it’s worth. I’m having fun with it, and there are tons of people who would love to be in those shoes, so I’m going to look at it that way rather than… you know, people are going to be expecting things, but I’m playing this game for me, not for anyone else. That’s the way I have to look at it.
DL: Lars Anderson came into this season with huge expectations, and obviously failed to live up to them. Has that indirectly served as a learning experience for you?
RK: Absolutely, but for him, even more so. He takes pride in his game. The kid has amazing talent, and he just wants to go out there every day and live up to the expectations, and I feel that, over the course of the year, he’s learned that he has to play this game for himself. He’s probably my best friend, and just taking what he did, and… I mean, yeah, he’ll say he had a bad year, but when you look at it, he’s hit a ton of balls that just haven’t fallen. That’s just the way it is sometimes. I feel like you have to learn to just play the game for yourself, and if you do that, whether you do good or do bad, at least you know that you gave it everything.
DL: Do fans sometimes have unrealistic expectations of players?
RK: This game is very statistical, and very pressurized, and people don’t realize that we hear comments all the time, coming from the stands, like, “How could you take that pitch?” They don’t seem to realize that this game isn’t the easiest thing to do, especially as a hitter. You fail 70 percent of the time, and you’re looked at as one of the best because you’re hitting .300. If I got those grades in school, I’d probably be the worst in my class. So, people don’t realize that this game is very, very hard, and they kind of need to give us some slack sometimes. You get up to Double-A, and guys are throwing 90 mph with movement, and you’re expected to crush those balls, but it’s not that easy. They don’t always seem to realize that we’re humans too, and we can fail.
DL: Do fans and players define failure differently? For instance, a fan may only look at your batting average, while you’re also focused on things like quality plate appearances.
RK: To be honest, the fans here in Portland are very good, but like you said… let’s say we have a man on second with none out, and I pull the ball and ground out. That’s a successful at-bat. Not everybody understands that. You’re trying to do things for the team. Let’s say we just had a real long inning in the field, and we need to see some pitches. Like yesterday, I took two fastballs right down the middle. I mean, maybe I could have done a little better job, but at the same time, we’d just had that long inning, and people were maybe sitting there going, “Wow, I can’t believe that he took that.” But sometimes your at-bat is more for the team than it is for yourself. That’s a part of the game that some people need to learn. In the end, the baseball gods will reward the people that play the game right. You’re hustling balls out for the team, and you have the right mental approach where it’s not all about yourself. The game tends to reward people, and I see it all the time. We have a lot of unselfish guys, and while things might not go very well all the time, I feel that it does even out in the end.
DL: When you’re working to improve a part of your game, do rely heavily on your coaches?
RK: Yes, but at the same time, I’ll also point out little things to them, like my swing. For instance, right now I’m pretty consistent on a middle-in pitch, but with middle-away, I need to get better at going to the opposite field. I can sense that. If I lunge at a baseball, that’s something I need to work on. So, I can sense things, but at the same time, I’m not going to strike out on a pitch away, and in the next at-bat change my approach. It’s going to be hard for a guy to throw me three balls on the outside corner, in a perfect spot. He’s going to make a mistake, and I want to be ready for that mistake. That’s what I’m talking about. But I can recognize things, too. That said, the coaches do help me. They know that my approach is very simple, and if my hitting coach sees something, he’ll be like, “Hey, check this out,” but most of the time, I’ll be on it already. I think I understand myself pretty well as a hitter. I like to keep it simple.
DL: Do you pay attention to advanced stats?
RK: I see my average on the board every day; it’s too hard not to see it. But as far as advanced stats… to be honest, that’s way too much for me. I’m very simple-minded with baseball. I can sense when I’m doing well, and I can sense when I’m doing terrible. That’s not hard to figure out as a player. I just feel that when you get caught up in stats, it makes it harder. It’s a really hard game, and when you start looking at stats, especially advanced stats, you can have so much floating through your mind when you step up to the plate that things can get out of control for you. That’s not how I want to be. You can ask all of these guys, you can ask Lars-they actually have a nickname for me. I’m like the caveman. That’s because I don’t really have too much thought going through my mind, which is something I feel that can help me. It plays to my advantage. Some guys are the direct opposite, and they analyze everything; they get too far into that stuff. Like I said, I just try to keep it simple.