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Don’t Forget Ryan Kalish

The Red Sox signed Jonny Gomes, and — completely ignoring his lack of an ‘h’ and inability to hit right-handed pitchers — declared him the starter in left field for 2013. Sort of. There’s a left-handed young man in left field that might have something to say about that. His name is Ryan Kalish.

If you read that link closely, you’ll see management left the door open for a platoon all along. Here’s Ben Cherington on the subject:

We expect him to play a lot,” general manager Ben Cherington said. “Exactly how many at-bats it ends up being, that’s up to John and I guess up to Jonny. He’ll have the opportunity to play a lot. We see him as an important part of the team.”

So, he’ll play ‘a lot,’ huh? Maybe just a little more than against every left-handed starter and/or late inning reliever? Gomes got 131 plate appearances against righties last year, and if Kalish is healthy, he won’t get any more this season.

By the player’s own account, his shoulder is finally healthy. It’s that shoulder injury — a partial tear of his left labrum, suffered in 2011 — that has cost him almost a full season of playing time over the past two years.

That injury might also have dampened his power. Since 2010, Kalish hasn’t met his minor or major league benchmarks in isolated slugging percentage. He hit many more ground balls in his second attempt at the major leagues, too, and batted ball mix becomes relevant in smaller samples. If that injury is finally healed, it might be reasonable to expect Kalish to outperform his power projections. As Jeff Zimmerman showed last year in his pre-season FG+ article, players that played through an injury can be expected to slug better than their projections the following season.

Even if you push his isolated slugging percentage up to about league average, though, Kalish is admittedly a stretch for most leagues. If he only plays a half to two-thirds of the time, he’ll have trouble accruing more plate appearances than the 450 Bill James has allotted him. And so, even given his nascent power, minor league patience and steady wheels, it’s hard to pencil him in for more than 15 homers and 20 stolen bases.

But there are a few ways that Kalish could push his way into more playing time. One requires a Jacoby Ellsbury trade. Ellsbury is coming up on free agency, and if the team is looking to build for the future using their best trade chip, he might be on his way out of town. Mostly, Kalish has found himself in center field, but even if Shane Victorino moves to center field, it’ll mean more playing time is available in the outfield.

Another way forward for Kalish is to show that he can hit left-handers as effectively as right-handers, pushing Gomes to more of a backup role. It’s not predictive or anything, but it is interesting that Kalish hit better against lefties than righties at most stops in the minor leagues. Given the fact that Shane Victorino has some platoon split issues of his own — even if regression and a larger sample size can mute the panic about those splits — there’s some opportunity for Kalish to find plate appearances against lefties, too.

The injury history is a bit of an dampener. Kalish has had injuries to both shoulders and his right hamate, and even had surgery for a bulging disc in the minor leagues. But the talent is there for a well-rounded player in both real-life and fantasy. This year, he should get a long look in that Boston outfield, as the team decides what sort of role he can have in the future. And that means you’ll have to get on board in deeper dynasty leagues before that look, just in case it all works out for him.