By Ryan Pfleiderer
It’s an uphill battle for minor league baseball players. There’s only space for 25 guys on the major league roster and that makes it tough to break into the bigs. But, no one on the Pawtucket Red Sox is going to give up on his childhood dream of playing at the major league level.
There are 15 members of the PawSox who have already made their major league debuts, but getting back up to the big league club isn’t easy. “Those guys up there you know are in the big leagues for a reason, but at the same time guys down here are really good too and it definitely prepares you,” Pawtucket outfielder Ryan Kalish said.
Last year Kalish made his major league debut and ended up playing in 53 games for an injury-ridden Red Sox squad. This year, the Red Sox outfield is healthy again and Kalish finds himself back in Rhode Island at the Triple-A level. “The season is your preparing… you’re trying to become a better player. If they need you up there then you can be ready,” he said.
Kalish isn’t the only outfielder of the PawSox who made his major league debut last season. Daniel Nava was called up last June and made sure that Red Sox Nation wouldn’t forget his name. In his first at-bat, Nava crushed a grand slam, earning himself a spot on the roster and 187 more plate appearances. But, fast-forward a year later and Nava is getting plate appearances at McCoy Stadium instead of Fenway Park. “I don’t focus on it because… I got to do my job before that even becomes a possibility. I’m not focused on that, I mean I think if you ask anybody you want to see them do well up there,” he said. Nava will need to find his stroke before he can make it back up to Boston; in 13 games with Pawtucket, the outfielder is hitting just .186 with no home runs and just 2 RBIs. But Nava will try to use his big league experience to improve on his game. “You do learn a lot up there while you’re up there and you try to anytime you get an opportunity to come and to play… you’re always trying to find ways to improve,” he said.
Lars Anderson didn’t spend as much time in the bigs as Kalish and Nava, but he did get a taste of the majors. Last season, the first baseman had 35 at-bats with Boston and was invited to join the team for Spring Training in Ft. Myers, Florida. “Well it helps you get ready, but you really can’t put too much stock into the spring. I’ve seen guys have amazing springs and have bad starts to their season… I mean anything can happen once the season starts. So I think it’s important to keep that perspective,” he said. The 23-year-0ld lefty has quickly made his way through the Red Sox organization. Anderson was drafted out of high school and spent two years playing Single-A ball before he was promoted to the Red Sox Double-A affiliate, the Portland Sea Dogs. Two seasons later he made the jump from Portland to Pawtucket and eventually to the big league club. The 6’4″ slugger will have to wait a little while longer before he gets a promotion, but he could find himself back up at the major league level when rosters are expanded near the end of the season.
Young players aren’t the only ones trying to break out of the minors, there are plenty of veterans who start the season in Triple-A. 35-year-old Brandon Duckworth made his major league debut 10 years ago and has pitched in over 130 big league games, but he’s in the Pawtucket starting rotation. Rich Hill is in the same boat; the 31-year-old southpaw is trying to make it back up to the big leagues after spending six seasons with the Chicago Cubs, Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox. But it doesn’t matter how much big league experience a player has, it’s all about how he’s playing right now. Duckworth and Hill will have to wait their turns just like Kalish, Nava and Anderson are doing. It’s not easy to wait for a spot on the big league roster to open up, but these PawSox are in a good position to make the jump to the majors when a place in the dugout becomes available.