Outfielder Ryan Kalish was the feel-good story of Spring Training for the Chicago Cubs. After being non-tendered by the Boston Red Sox last year, the Cubs signed Kalish to a minor league deal on Dec. 13, 2013. He was not expected to make the Cubs’ 25-man roster, but his .304 batting average this spring with six steals and a .385 on-base percentage was enough to convince the Cubs to award him with a roster spot.
Kalish is a former top 100 prospect in Boston’s system when Theo Epstein was GM, and it’s easy to see why Epstein re-acquired him due to his versatility and patient approach at the plate. Although Kalish made it to the majors as a 22-year-old rookie in 2010, injuries derailed his career, and up until this past offseason it was unknown whether or not Kalish would ever again play professional baseball.
In April of 2011, Kalish injured his neck diving into an outfield wall. While cervical fusion surgery was discussed as an option, Kalish opted to go with a different procedure which never fully repaired his neck. In August of 2013, Kalish finally had the cervical fusion surgery performed, the same surgery that Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning underwent in 2012, and the surgery seems to have been a resounding success as Kalish feels better than he has since the initial injury.
In his second start for the Cubs this season, Kalish was a one-man wrecking crew at the plate on Sunday going 2-for-3 with a triple, a double and two walks, resulting in two runs scored and three runs batted in. Kalish hit No. 2 in the lineup, and this appears to be the perfect position for him given his on-base skills.
While he may not hit for a lot of power, Kalish just missed a home run in his first at bat on Sunday and could hit 15 home runs with regular playing time. He also possesses plus speed which allows him to play every outfield position and could result in as many as 20 stolen bases over the course of a season.
As Kalish showed off his upside on Sunday, outfielder Ryan Sweeney continued to struggle at the plate and is now 1-for-13 to start the season. Sweeney’s slow start could result in increased playing time for Kalish who may work himself into a platoon with Junior Lake in left field.
At just 26 years old, Kalish is entering the prime of his career. While he will never be a superstar, Kalish has the potential to play a significant role on the next contending Cubs team.