NEW YORK: Ryan Kalish #55 of the Boston Red Sox hits a double to get team mate Yamaico Navarro #56 home against the New York Yankees during their game at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
At the start of the 2012 season, there was no room for Ryan Kalish in the Red Sox outfield. In addition to Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury, two outfielders entrenched in Boston's outfield together for at least the next two years, the Red Sox had acquired Ryan Sweeney and Cody Ross. Darnell McDonald was already in place as the bench outfielder, and even if Kalish had been healthy to start the season, it's unlikely Boston would have interrupted his development at Pawtucket in order to give him a bench gig.
Because of this, it was assumed that, when Kalish returned from his neck and shoulder surgeries, he would get all the time he needed in Pawtucket to get back in a rhythm and show he was finished with the level, possibly never seeing Boston until rosters expanded in September. Things can change quickly in a few months time, though, and with Crawford still on the 60-day DL, Ellsbury on it, and Cody Ross also likely out until July, there's all of a sudden an opening for Kalish if he's prepared to fill it.
That last bit is the important question: is Kalish ready for the majors? In his 2010 campaign, the lefty hit .293/.404/.527 at Double-A Portland before moving to Triple-A, where he continued to produce (.294/.356/.476). He didn't mash like he had in Double-A, but that's to be expected for a 22-year-old in his first taste of the top level of the minors. Because of injuries, Kalish was brought up to Boston before he was likely ready, but he acquitted himself well enough: a .252/.305/.405 season might not seem like much, but given his youth and inexperience in the upper levels, it wasn't a bad performance.
His 2011 was lost to the point where the stats don't even merit citing, but the serious loss of playing time in the last year-plus hasn't dulled his timing, if his current rehab assignment is to be believed. Kalish is hitting .385/.529/.769 in his first 34 plate appearances back, and while he's not going to hit like that forever, it's a good sign given he played in just 24 games in 2011, and is recovering from two surgeries.
Kalish has been in center for his two games at Pawtucket, and has homered in both. He's also stolen a base and drawn four walks, and if he continues to deliver at the plate, it's going to be hard for the Red Sox to just leave him there.
Room needs to be cleared on both the 25- and 40-man rosters for Kalish, in order to bring him to the majors and take him off of the 60-day DL, respectively. Luckily, the player that Kalish would be replacing, Marlon Byrd, could be designated in order to clear both of those spots in one fell swoop.
Byrd is hitting .273/.288/.323 for Boston, and just .211/.245/.246 overall, for an OPS+ of 34. In Kalish's first stint with the Red Sox, his OPS+ was 81 -- not perfect, but markedly better than what Byrd has done, either for the year or just with Boston (66). Projection systems aren't exactly enamored with Kalish -- ZiPS has him at .257/.318/.402, and PECOTA .264/.328/.423 -- but they aren't factoring in that he was hurt and playing that way in 2011. The missed year does a number on his projections, but even those pessimistic lines beat what Byrd's been up to.*
*Byrd, for what it's worth, is at .262/.311/.385 for ZiPS, and initially had a .282/.333/.418 PECOTA, though, after watching him this year, that last one seems highly unlikely to occur.
While Kalish might not be a center fielder forever as he ages and adds bulk, he's still more than capable there today, so whatever Byrd brings defensively can also easily be replaced by bringing up Kalish.
It's likely that, had Daniel Bard not been optioned to Pawtucket with his own problems, that Byrd would have been cut loose to bring Darnell McDonald back into the fold. With someone even better than McDonald sitting in Pawtucket, Byrd might not have escaped his fate for very long. That's all to the good for the Sox, though, especially given that Byrd has been the only consistent weak link in the lineup during the season, even with all of the injuries to important contributors.
Kalish might not be ready to contribute in the way he will eventually, given the development time he needs. But, with Boston without anything resembling their planned outfield for at least another month -- if not closer to two -- his presence could help the Red Sox in a suddenly-crowded and competitive American League East. There's an argument to be made that Pawtucket might be best for him in the long run -- after all, that's where he started 2011 before it became a lost season -- but, as injuries have reminded us, plans can change.