BOSTON – When Josh Reddick made his first appearance in Portland, he was 20 and even skinnier than he is today. He slipped unnoticed onto the Sea Dogs’ playoff roster in 2007, replacing the injured Bubba Bell.
Why call him up from low Class A Greenville for only a few games?
“The organization is high on this kid,” explained one Red Sox official.
And they are still high on him, so much so that Reddick has taken over the right-field job in Fenway Park, supplanting a slumping J.D. Drew and saving the Red Sox from having to make a major trade for an outfielder.
Reddick, 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, is batting .345 with four home runs and 21 RBI in 36 games.
“We get a big kick out of watching guys that come through our system have success,” Red Sox Manager Terry Francona said. “I think it is a little bit of a misrepresentation — I know we’re a big market and we’re fortunate enough to sign free agents — but we love when our guys come through the system. We’re really proud of that.”
For a while it looked like another player in the system (Ryan Kalish) and a big-money free agent (Carl Crawford) were going to mean an exit for Reddick out of the Red Sox organization.
“With us getting (Crawford) and them being so high on (Kalish) — the way he performed last year, they kind of fell in love with him,” Reddick said, “I didn’t really expect to come up here and have happen what happened.”
What happened — becoming a starter in the majors — has been the culmination of an up-and-down journey for Reddick.
In that 2007 postseason, Reddick was 0 for 1 as a pinch hitter and was picked off as a pinch runner.
He returned to Hadlock Field the following July, having been promoted from advanced Class A, and hit .214 in 34 games.
Reddick, an aggressive hitter, was trying to learn the patient approach taught by the Red Sox.
“It’s been a slow process for me, and frustrating,” Reddick said at the time. “It’s nothing I’ve been accustomed to my whole life.”
Then came 2009. Reddick hit .277 with 13 home runs in 63 games. He was summoned to the major leagues on July 31 and had two hits in each of his first two starts, including a home run.
He bounced back and forth that year from the majors to the minors. He cooled somewhat, batting .169 in 27 major league games.
In 2010, Reddick moved between Triple-A Pawtucket to Boston. But it was Kalish who became the soaring prospect, called to Boston on July 31 and playing 53 games.
Kalish became the heir apparent to Drew in right field. Reddick became a name brought up in trade rumors.
“I didn’t really want that (idea of being traded) getting into my head,” Reddick said. “I just wanted to come into spring training and show these guys that I can still do this every day.
“Even though they were so high on Kalish, I wanted to be someone who could come up here eventually and help.”
Both Kalish and Reddick began the season in Pawtucket, but Kalish suffered a partially torn labrum in his left shoulder while making a diving catch April 21. It took a month for the shoulder to heal, and a herniated disc in his neck has kept him on the disabled list.
Kalish might begin playing in August. A call-up to Boston this year is unlikely.
Still, both Kalish and Reddick could be in Boston’s future (Jacoby Ellsbury, who has Scott Boras for an agent, could become a free agent after the 2013 season). But Reddick has made his claim on a regular job this season.
“Sometimes, you have to pick yourself up after someone else’s injury and make the best of it,” Reddick said. “I love playing here. Fortunately, right now it’s working out in every aspect possible.”
As far has his improved approach at the plate, Reddick is hardly someone who looks for walks, but he admits to becoming a more selective hitter.
“Just maturing. I can’t really explain it,” he said. “I guess something clicked with the pitch selection and that kind of thing. Just turned it around when I really needed to.”
Reddick’s manager from Portland (and this year in Pawtucket), Arnie Beyeler, is watching Reddick’s progress with a smile.
“He’s always been dangerous,” Beyeler said. “Can drive the baseball. He’s giving himself a chance to do that on a consistent basis with his approach at the plate.
“And in turn, he’s getting more of a chance to play.”
While Drew’s forte was covering the uniqueness of Fenway’s right field, Francona said, “The more (Reddick) is out there, the better, because he’s really athletic. That’s one of his strengths. He’s fast enough and he has plenty of arm.
“But there are some quirks out there that (Drew) makes look really easy. It will take some time with (Reddick). But he’s a good outfielder.”
And right now, Reddick is the right fielder for the Boston Red Sox. The skinny kid who looked out of place four years ago in Portland appears comfortable in Boston.
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: