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February 26, 2009 at 10:11 AM

2009 Prospect Previews: Hunter Jones and Ryan Kalish

The eight installment of the Prospect Previews series takes a look at a reliever vying to be in the major league mix, and an outfielder looking to breakout after a season slowed by injury.

2008 Teams: Portland Sea Dogs and Pawtucket Red Sox
2009 Projected Team: Pawtucket Red Sox

Strengths: Jones is a big left-handed reliever with an over-the-top delivery that is deceptive to batters. His two-seam fastball sits 88-91 MPH with some late movement that tails away from right-handed batters and in on left-handed hitters. Although the pitch is not overpowering, it appears faster than it is given the deceptive way Jones releases it, and he can get it by batters up in the strike zone. An aggressive pitcher who goes right after hitters, Jones can pound the zone with his fastball and has good control overall. His slider is more of a slurve pitch, a mix between a curveball he used to throw and a true slider. The pitch comes into the zone 80-82 MPH and while it is not a hard, biting slider, it is effective when it is down in the zone as batters will chase it with two strikes. He’s been effective against right-handed hitters during his minor league career and has been able to pick up a strikeout per inning in AA/AAA. Added to the Red Sox 40-man roster in November of 2008, Jones has worked his way into the mix for a spot in the Boston bullpen in the future after going undrafted in 2005 and signing with the team later that summer.

Development Needs: Despite being a lefty, Jones doesn’t have great success against left-handed batters and doesn’t project to be used as a specialist in the future. Some improvement against left-handed batters would help further carve a role for him at the major league level. His slider has been effective, but he doesn’t really throw the pitch for a strike, and relies on his fastball to get ahead of hitters. Catching a little bit of the strike zone with his slider would help keep hitters further off-balance and enhance his deceptiveness, but given the smaller break on the pitch he’ll have to be fine to keep it out of the middle of the plate. Jones will need to continue to demonstrate the good control he has shown in his career thus far, as he has given up about a hit per inning in AA/AAA and is prone to giving up some contact.

2009 Outlook: Jones is in the major league camp and if everything plays out the way the Red Sox expect, he’ll start the season in the bullpen for Pawtucket. Expect Jones to continue his aggressive ways on the mound and go right after AAA hitters once again. He should have good success using his fastball, locating it on corners and sneaking up on hitters up in the zone. Some improvement on the sharpness of his slider would further enhance his effectiveness, and he should be successful ahead in the count and down in the zone. Jones could start mixing his slider in earlier counts, something to take watch of as the 2009 season unfolds. With a strong camp, he could work his way into the mix for a call-up during the season if injuries hit the Red Sox bullpen. 2009 will be an interesting and exciting year for Jones, as a player on the cusp of making it to the big leagues after the unheralded journey as an undrafted free agent in 2005.

2008 Teams: Greenville Drive and Lancaster Jethawks
2009 Projected Team: Salem Red Sox

Strengths: Kalish is an excellent athlete overall. Possessing great speed on the base paths and in the outfield, a solid build and excellent bat speed produced by his strong wrists, he is the total package in terms of tools for a baseball player. A tough player and hard worker, Kalish put in a lot of work with the Red Sox staff in Florida prior to breaking camp in 2007 with Lowell, and the results paid off with a strong start to that season. Whipping the bat head through the zone, Kalish makes hard contact and produces line drives to all parts of the field. He’s become a patient hitter since joining the system and posted a .449 on-base percentage in the Hawaiian Winter League this past winter. On the bases, Kalish is a threat to steal and can make an impact with his wheels. Covering a lot of ground in the outfield, Kalish can play both center and right field well, showing off an above-average arm and the ability to make plays. A very strong player, he has the potential to add power to his game as he learns to drive through his pitches and lift the ball more with his swing. Exciting and very popular, Kalish has the overall package to make an impact in many different ways.

Development Needs: A broken hamate bone derailed Kalish’s strong start to 2007 and lingered throughout his 2008 season, stunting his development. Not fully comfortable with his wrist in 2008, Kalish was unable to unleash with his swing like he had in the past, and his bat speed suffered as a result. After starting off slow, he was able to raise his contact rates, but his power lagged behind. Kalish will need to gain more trust in his wrist and get back to aggressively attacking pitches he can drive. He has some lost time to make up for, but as an extremely hard worker Kalish should put the extra time in to round his game back into form. It remains to be seen how his power will end up playing into his game given his setback, but the overall package is there for him to increase his power output. Working on creating more loft in his swing is something that he can focus on given his strength and bat speed. Kalish can gamble in the field from time to time, and needs a little more refinement on his decision making in the outfield.

2009 Outlook: Kalish was one of the first players to report down to Florida this year, and it has been reported that he looks a lot stronger than last year. Look for Kalish to begin in one of the outfield spots with the Salem Red Sox. With the lingering effects of his wrist injury behind him, one of the main things to watch for is how he attacks the baseball at the plate this season. Expect Kalish to put more balls into play via hard contact while continuing to use the whole field. He should exhibit good contact rates as well as increasing his extra base hit totals in 2009. Another area of development to watch for is how his patient approach jives with the advancement of pitching at this level. Kalish has put a lot of work into his understanding of the strike zone, so expect him to continue to pick his pitches out while laying off some of the tougher ones he can’t handle. 2009 should be a year that provides a clearer picture of Kalish now that his wrist troubles are behind him, and one that has many prospect followers intrigued at what he can accomplish on the baseball diamond.

Written by Chris Mellen