Editor's note: Each day this week, NESN.com Red Sox reporter Tony Lee will profile Ryan Kalish's rise to the big leagues. On Tuesday, his high school career switch to only baseball was featured.
For a guy with such explosive athleticism and the ability to turn heads in an instant, Ryan Kalish's impact on the Red Sox organization was not immediate.
Kalish signed midway through the summer of 2006 and was only able to get his feet wet that season, appearing in a total of 17 games between the Sox' Gulf Coast League affiliate and the Lowell Spinners.
The former ninth-round pick did explode out of the gate for the Spinners in 2007, batting .368 with three home runs and 18 stolen bases in 23 games. Certainly, he drew some attention then (Lowell manager Gary DiSarcina was quoted at the time as comparing Kalish to his former teammate, Darin Erstad, and saying of Kalish, "I love him! He's my favorite player."
However, a broken bone in his right hand ended that campaign and sent him toward the offseason in a cast and facing his first major obstacle as a professional.
Two seasons into his career and Kalish had been involved in 40 games. Other position players taken several rounds later than Kalish in 2006 (Lars Anderson and Josh Reddick, to be specific) had already rocketed past Lowell and were flying up the organizational rankings. To make matters worse, treatment for the broken bone didn't work all that well, and Kalish went into 2008 still struggling to get his strength back.
The result was a good, but not great season at Greenville and Lancaster, two Single-A stops that saw Kalish hit a combined .273 with five homers and 19 steals in 114 games. Meanwhile, Reddick hit .311 with 23 homers in a season split between Single-A and Double-A ball, and Anderson became one of the top prospects in the country after batting a combined .317 with 18 homers between Lancaster and Portland. (While not a draft pick, Daniel Nava had begun to turn heads as well with a .341 average and 10 homers at Lancaster, just another figure outshining Kalish on the stat sheet).
Like DiSarcina, every coach that has had Kalish along the way has raved about his character, preparation, work ethic and all those intangibles that make "average" numbers meaningless. That's what made the former three-sport star stay the course.
"[The 2008 season] was tough for me because the strength wasn't fully back throughout most of the season, but I wasn't about to sit because it hurt," Kalish said before entering the 2009 campaign. "I knew there was nowhere I could go but up…It wasn't going to hurt any worse than it did, and it was only going to get better. So I played, and it did get better."
And so did Kalish with a breakout season in 2009.
While several of the aforementioned top prospects hit a bit of a wall in their progression, Kalish overcame an early slump at Portland, where he was hitting just .136 (9-for-66) after 18 games. He recovered to bat .292 with all 13 of his homers over his final 85 games and finished as one of six players in the Eastern League to record double figures in home runs and stolen bases (only one other guy on that list, Brennan Boesch, has reached the majors).
"He didn't get off to that great a start with us," said former Portland manager and current Pawtucket manager Arnie Beyeler. "He just continued to work his plan and work his program and continue grinding and doing his work every day, knowing that he was hitting the ball hard but not getting rewarded for it early in the year. He just stuck with it and finally he broke out and got rolling."
Finally, Kalish was having a significant impact. But nothing would compare to 2010.
Check back Thursday for a look at how Kalish's memorable 2010 season began.