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ryan kalish red soxIt tends to be the case that guys who come to camp on a minor league deal have reached that point in their careers for a reason. Flaws in their game have been exposed as they reached the majors, or maybe a serious injury or two derailed things. Finding a superstar on a no-risk minor league deal is not the kind of thing that happens, but, as we’ve seen repeatedly, you can definitely find some value out there when you’ve got the roster flexibility to take a bunch of shots, and if you luck into a guy with a unique set of circumstances.

We saw it with Ryan Sweeney, whom the Cubs got on a minor league deal because of the timing quirks of a crowded Red Sox outfield. We saw it with Brian Bogusevic (who was then turned into Justin Ruggiano), whom the Cubs got on a minor league deal because he was a converted pitcher who was still establishing himself as a positional guy. We saw it with Kevin Gregg, whom the Cubs got on a minor league deal because everyone assumed he was done after a down 2012 season (and folks didn’t realize how he was reworking his arsenal). Those are just three examples, and those were all in 2013.

Is Ryan Kalish going to be the next example?

I’ll confess, I didn’t have much optimism for Kalish when he was non-tendered by the Red Sox. I discussed him as a possible option for the Cubs, given the age (25) and the Boston connection (drafted in 2006 by, essentially, the Cubs front office), but I didn’t see much of a fit, given the lefty bat (the Cubs have a lot of ‘em in the outfield) and the poor stats over the past few years. When the Cubs actually picked him up, I was similarly shoulder-shruggy.

Thanks to a great piece on Kalish by Carrie Muskat, though, I wonder if there’s a small chance the 25-year-old outfielder could actually contribute in 2014. After being drafted in 2006 out of high school, Kalish went to short season ball in 2007, and he hit. In 2008, he split time at Low-A and High-A, and he hit. He was considered by Baseball America to be a top 100 prospect in the game that year. In 2009, Kalish split time between High-A and AA, and he hit. In 2010, he split time between AA and AAA, and he hit – extremely well, actually, to the tune of .294/.382/.502 over 343 plate appearances, striking out just 53 times while walking 42 times. He’d performed so well that he actually earned a call up to the Red Sox that year at age 22, hitting .252/.305/.405 over 179 plate appearances and mostly playing center field.

Things were looking pretty darn good for his future, and there were projections/predictions from around baseball that, long-term, this kid was a future star.

And then, in 2011, Kalish didn’t quite make the Red Sox’s roster out of the gate (they had just signed Carl Crawford, who was added to Mike Cameron, J.D. Drew, and Jacoby Ellsbury), and, for the first time in his minor league career, he didn’t hit. His OPS at AAA in 2011 was a startling .550. In 2012, it was almost the same story, and he played only 27 games. In 2013, he didn’t play at all. What in the world happened in 2011?

Well, as Muskat’s piece describes, Kalish dove for a ball in April at AAA, and his shoulders were never the same. From there, his neck started bothering him, and things got worse over time. The reason Kalish missed all of 2013 is because, in January, he had shoulder surgery to repair a labrum tear, and then in August, he had a cervical fusion performed in his neck (the kind that you may have heard of Peyton Manning getting). For the first time in years, Kalish says he’s now fully healthy. Maybe there’s something there to dream on, once again?

To be clear: as much as injuries and surgeries can be used to explain a guy’s struggles, they are also clear warning signs about a guy’s ability to perform well in the future. That is to say, Kalish’s shoulder and neck issues could have been the reason for his aberrant poor performance in the last few years, but they could also wind up being the reason he never makes it back as a quality big leaguer. He’s also up against an extremely crowded outfield group of guys trying to make the Cubs’ roster – in addition to the four expected to make the team (Lake/Sweeney/Ruggiano/Schierholtz), other competitors for the outfield bench include Chris Coghlan, Mitch Maier, Darnell McDonald, Brett Jackson, Josh Vitters, Casper Wells, and Aaron Cunningham. The infield versatility of Donnie Murphy and Luis Valbuena could allow the Cubs to carry six outfielders (how about three outfield platoons at once!), but it’s a stretch.

In any event, given the track record, and the possibility of an explanation for the poor performance, Kalish is the kind of guy you’re happy to see the Cubs grabbing on a no-risk minor league deal. If nothing else, I’ll be observing him a little more closely in the Spring than I thought I would be.

Even if Kalish doesn’t make the big league team, hopefully he sticks around at AAA to start the year, and the Cubs can more closely see whether he’s back to his 2010 form. If so, at just 25, there might be a real future there for a lefty bat with great plate discipline, and one that can cover every spot in the outfield.

  • CubFanBob

    I like the fire in his belly.

  • Kyle

    If “could turn out to be a Sweeney or Bogusevic” counts as optimism, then sure, there’s reason for that.

    There’s clearly a fifth outfield spot open, and it seems to be between Kalish and Vitters (with maybe Szczur as a long shot).

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Coghlan and Wells seem reasonable competitors, too.

      • jeff1969

        Great read Brett. I’ve been wondering what happened to Kalish. I thought he was going to be a Red Sox hero type guy. I would be really surprised if Casper Wells did much though. He looked clueless at the plate & the field last year for the White Sox. Like he was just overmatched; blown away by fastballs down the middle. He might be better off on the mound. I know most people will think this is foolish, but I’m intrigued in a good way by the roulette nature of the Cubs 2014, especially the OF. As someone who was hoping for some kind of teardown & rebuild of this organization, I’m fine with seeing what, if anything, these guys can do. It might be horrifying, but really, we’re Cub fans, Mick Kelleher was once the starting SS, we should be used to ugly.

    • JCubs79

      I really hope Vitters wins the spot.

      • Noah_I

        If it’s just to get sporadic playing time, I’d honestly rather see Vitters playing in LF every day in Iowa, then he can take the second shot at LF if Lake fails.

        • CubFan Paul

          “I’d honestly rather see Vitters playing in LF every day in Iowa”

          Me too. Breaking into the big leagues as a versus-lefty guy would be tough

  • TTH

    That collection of names in the “crowded outfield” is downright depressing.

    • Kyle

      There’s not a single outfielder in the organization right now who profiles as a legit MLB starter in 2014. Schierholtz is closest, but even he’s much better as a 4th OFer.

      • dw8

        I’m not sure what exactly qualifies as legit, but if Ryan Sweeney gets at least 450 PA’s in 2014, I think he gets to at least 2 wins. That seems legit.

        • Kyle

          That would be legit, but I think that’s an overexuberant projection.

          • dw8

            Curious, overexuberant on the PA’s? If so, that’s probably fair.

  • Jon

    Let me know when the Cubs go after a former Red Sox that’s worth a shit.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      How much does a full season of Ryan Sweeney translate to? Half a shit? 3/4 a shit?

      http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=6352&position=OF

      • Edwin

        I just don’t know if I trust fangraphs shit calculation though. I don’t know if it uses the correct replacement level shit.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          Even setting that aside, you can’t look at his line, coupled with what you saw of him in the field, and conclude he had value?

          On a good team, he’s probably a fourth outfielder. But he’s probably a very good one on a very good contract.

          • DarthHater

            Somebody please make a service call to repair Bert’s sarcasm detector. :-P

          • Edwin

            I was joking. I think Sweeney’s shit has a nice amount of surplus value to the Cubs.

      • Jon

        The Ryan Sweeney of 2008, maybe. We’ll always have 2008, Ryan.

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          You may want to review his numbers from 2013 again, in a partial season. I linked them to, you know, help you.

          • Jon

            So if we “pretend” he would have been healthy in 2013, he would have been a 2 WIN player?

            • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

              No one asked you to pretend anything (providing more than a win in less than half a season is, on its own, value). Except maybe to “pretend” to exercise some thoughtful analysis instead of glib hyperbole.

              • Patrick W.

                What the hell, Brett? Thoughtful analysis? You trying to mess this place up?

              • MightyBear

                You’re NEVER going to get thoughtful analysis out of him. It’s not in his nature.

            • Chef Brian

              Thoughtful analysis impedes Jon’s ability to fire off snarky quips.

    • Chef Brian

      Anthony Rizzo?

  • DarthHater

    “whom the Cubs got on a minor league deal because he was a converted pitcher who was still establishing himself as a positional guy.”

    I think the Cubs were able to get Bogusevic on a minor league deal because his OPS with Houston in 2012 was only .596. He converted from pitcher to OF before the 2009 season. If you’re struggling to hit as a position player after being one for four full seasons, it’s not because your establishing yourself as a position player, it’s because you’re just struggling to hit.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      I want to write a thoughtful disagreement (something attacking the semantics of “because his OPS with Houston in 2012 was only .596″ meaning exactly what I said), but the meat of it is that I simply disagree – conversion can take a while at the highest levels of professional ball, and it fails for 90% of the players who try it.

  • V23

    Am I naive to think that Vitters could surprise us and take the LF job this year? He always had the “can’t-miss” swing and seems to eventually conquer each level after a couple tries at them.

    • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

      Could he do it? Absolutely (even moreso, given that his competition is hardly a sure thing). Is it likely? Not very. He’ll probably need some time at AAA adjusting to the outfield full-time.

      • Kyle

        I think it’s more likely than you do.

        It’s not hard to play the outfield, and he’s a better hitter than Junior Lake.

        • CubFan Paul

          “and he’s a better hitter than Junior Lake”

          at the ML level that remains to be seen.

          • Kyle

            And at all the other levels, which we have decades of research showing that they can tell us what to expect at the ML level, it’s been seen.

            • Patrick W.

              No question Vitters is likely the more valuable hitter than Lake. Lake had 6 games of experience in the OF in the minors, Vitters has 3.

              Lake is the better athlete with the higher ceiling but I think he also has the lower floor.

            • Funn Dave

              And yet, when Vitters did reach the bigs, he fell short of said projections….

        • http://www.bleachernation.com Brett

          I agree on the hitting, overall, but Lake’s superior athleticism plays a role. Also, I’ll confess: I’m a victim of wondering if Lake is that extremely rare bird with crazy awesome tools that somehow plays up at the big league level (and I’ve been as down on Lake as anyone).

          • Noah_I

            The problem with seeing Junior Lake is that he has to have pretty much the best BABIP of any player in the modern era to be a successful Major Leaguer if he doesn’t walk more or strike out less. I just can’t bring myself to predict that a player can do that. If Lake’s BABIP falls to even .330, he’s a replacement level player.

            • CubFan Paul

              “If Lake’s BABIP falls to even .330, he’s a replacement level player”

              That’s assuming he stays the same & doesn’t adjust and develop.

              • Eternal Pessimist

                …and his BABIP is likely to stay fairly high. It has been high at every level so far, including his 2013 MLB. I won’t be surprised if he stabilizes as a 2-3 WAR outfielder.

          • jammin502

            I have been a Lake supporter for a few years now and I loved that he was given a chance last year. For 2014, seeing Lake play everyday is really the only positive vibe going right now since it will probably be Summer or Fall before we see Baez and/or Bryant. Outside of those 3 players, I will be very interested to watch the progress of Alcantara and how all the infield pieces fit.

    • rabbit

      I think best case scenario he can platoon with one of our outfielders. He has killed left handed pitching in the minors. We could really use that.

  • CubFan Paul

    “how about three outfield platoons at once!”

    You just jinxed us.

  • 5412

    Hi,

    Pitchers who had surgery have come back fine. Cubs have that kid from the Braves who they hope can come back this year. If he performs anything close to his old numbers he will be the sleeper surprise of the year.

    No reason it cannot be the same way for position players. We bet on Olt to do that.

    Regards,
    5412

  • http://BN Sacko

    Have to hope somebody develops out of the rubble as more then likely Schierholtz is traded in July.

  • CubChymyst

    Kalish, is young enough that he could be that Lefty bat the cubs need in the outfield in a couple years. In 3 years he will only be 28. He could easily take Scheirholtz spot after this season (or after the trade deadline if Scheirholtz is delt) if he progresses as hoped.

  • Edwin

    I wasn’t originally optimistic about Ryan Kalish, but since there’s few other players on the Cubs to feel optimistic about, I guess he’ll do.

  • itzscott

    31 replies and no one posted the obligatory “cheap, low risk, flippable” comment yet????

    • ssckelley

      Everybody is to busy arguing about the bible, gay rights, sexuality, that sort of thing.

  • Tremendous Slouch

    Maybe I’m just having a rough morning… But I’m getting so tired of these conversations regarding retreads and cast offs… I guess that’s where we’re at and I know there’s a plan to be competitive in the “near future”… I know, I know, I know… UGH!

    • CubFan Paul

      “know there’s a plan to be competitive in the “near future””

      Not near enough from when the rebuild started or as near as promised.

    • Kyle

      Oooh, a plan. How brilliant of them to have a plan. It’s all OK guys, they have a *plan*.

      • Hee Seop Chode

        That made me laugh out loud

  • Cornish Heat

    Whoa, we can actually talk about Cubs baseball today?? Rad.

  • ssckelley

    I certainly hope the Cubs can find a couple of useful outfielders in this mess they are bringing in. Kalish is still young and if he is 100% healthy then he is worth a look, last season they brought in Bogusevic and Sweeney and that turned out well. But I do look forward to the day when the Cubs do not have to “dumpster dive” in order to find serviceable talent for the MLB roster.

  • Fastball

    I personally like the Kalish story. He demonstrated he could produce even in his limited number of at bats at the ML level before getting hurt. It just takes time to get back to feeling like you can perform at a high level. This kid could waltz right in and take over a spot. Who Know’s. I hope he does well. Same thing kinda goes for Olt. These flukey injuries take some time. He is plenty young enough to still have a really nice career. I don’t see BJax busting into the ML roster. Vitters is the only one on that list who is real competition with Kalish this spring. One could almost say that Vitters can play back up 1b and OF. It will be at least interesting to see what happens in ST. If guys like Kalish, Sweeney, Vitters, Ruggiano, Lake and Olt “all kind of show up for real”. I will be extremely optimistic about the Cubs being the long shot that ruins everyones Trifecta but mine. :) If Barney, Castro and Rizzo each remember how to hit we could Turn Into A Contender… gotta stop watching the Major League movies.. I was bored and watched all of them while the wife watched that damned figure skating. Now that made me want to puke.

  • Fastball

    It’s almost ST I am ready to be optimistic and full of good thoughts until my bubble has been burst. It does seem there is a lot of Money Ball type wish in one hand and shit in the other, see which one you fill up first going on with this roster. But we can dream. Maybe there is some kind of baseball angel who will smile down on the Cubbies. How crazy would it be to have this kind of roster be the one that somehow perfectly aligned and we are a contender this year. Just hope none of our real starting pitchers are doing towel drills before end of the 1st week of ST.

  • Blackhawks1963

    Ryan Kalish is Bostonian speak for Brett Jackson. In other words, not much to get excited about at this point.

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