Ryan Kalish paused after hearing the question.

Kalish played a third of last season in the major leagues, so he was asked if he finally felt he “belonged” as a professional baseball player.

“That’s a tough one to answer,” Kalish said last week. “You’re thinking that you got there. It’s the big leagues. Obviously, the guys there are great.

“Do I belong? That’s still to be found out. I’m very confident and I like to keep everything very even.”

Kalish, 22, who will be in town Friday for the Portland Sea Dogs’ annual hot stove dinner, is not making any noise about where he will begin the 2011 season.

There are two ways to consider Kalish. One is that he has established himself as a major leaguer after his impressive 2010 debut.

The other thought, which is more likely, is that Kalish will begin 2011 in Triple-A Pawtucket, honing his skills and waiting for an opportunity (an injury or when right fielder J.D. Drew’s contract is up after this season).

“You never know where you’re going to start the season,” Kalish said. “It doesn’t bother me either way. Just have to be ready and get better.”

That is how Kalish viewed 2010, not as a way to prove himself but a way to improve while contributing. He certainly enjoyed the ride.

“I got a taste of it and it was awesome,” Kalish said. “I got to learn and be around a lot of really good players.

“I’d watch them. Everyone is honing their craft, trying to become the greatest player they can be for the team. It’s made me a lot hungrier.”

When Kalish began the 2010 season, he was a returning player with the Portland Sea Dogs. In April, he watched his friend Lars Anderson start hot and quickly get promoted to Pawtucket.

Kalish batted .223 in April. He rebounded and was hitting .293 on May 31 when he got the call to Triple-A.

Kalish kept hitting and when Boston needed replacements for its injury-riddled team, Kalish was summoned July 31. He never returned to the minors.

After a 2 for 4 debut, Kalish hit .213 in August and again rebounded to hit .274 in September and October.

Kalish impressed teammates and coaches with the energy he brought to the ballpark, the maturity he showed in the clubhouse and his production on the field. He led the team in stolen bases (10) and played solid defense in all three outfield positions.

This offseason Kalish did not play winter ball but he is hardly resting. Except for a break for Christmas and New Year’s at home in Shrewsbury, N.J., he has spent the past six weeks at the Athletes Performance Institute in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“A really, really cool place,” Kalish said.

He works out 11 times over a week and has his diet monitored and tweaked.

It is hard to imagine Kalish, a multisport athlete who turned down a football scholarship to the University of Virginia, in better shape than he already has been.

The workouts are all part of the plan for Kalish to be ready, wherever he plays. His destination appears to be McCoy Stadium in Pawtucket.

His fate for 2011 seemed to be sealed when the Red Sox signed free-agent outfielder Carl Crawfield to play left field. But ask Kalish about the signing, as well as the trade for Adrian Gonzalez, and his voice jumps in volume.

“Those moves were awesome,” he said. “Those guys are great, established, elite major league ballplayers. I’m excited to be able to watch those guys.

“We’re obviously a better team now, competing for a World Series (berth). That’s how I look at it.”

Boston will start Crawford, Jacoby Ellsbury in center and Drew in right. Mike Cameron is the fourth outfielder and Darnell McDonald has a chance to stick around as the fifth outfielder; the latter two are right-handed, something Boston needs on its bench.

But there may still be a role for the left-handed Kalish, depending on everyone’s health. And by 2012, Kalish could be an everyday major leaguer.

Don’t ask Kalish about that. He’s keeping everything “very even.”

But Kalish has to admit some things have changed. Last April, Kalish was a prospect with question marks. Now he is returning to Portland — as a Red Sox outfielder and featured guest at the Sea Dogs’ annual dinner.

“Weird,” Kalish said.

And earned.

Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contaced at 791-6411 or at:

[email protected]