Aggressive Heretic

Reddick laying waste to the California League

The Red Sox organization preaches patience, making Josh Reddick somewhat of a heretic.

Reddick walked just 15 times in his first 300 plate appearances with Lancaster. Though the Boston brass keep pushing him to be more selective, Reddick pushes back, continuing to approach the game the way he always has—with unabashed abandon. He refers to free-swinging as his "personal baseball philosophy," and it has served him well.

The lefthanded-hitting right fielder had 16 home runs and 56 RBIs for the JetHawks, and had surprised several who, but a short while ago, rated him little more than a mid-level prospect.

Reddick's .341/.371/.584 averages testify to his emergence as one of the better all-around hitters in the farm system, but the Red Sox are even more pleased with what they say cannot be quantified.

"Even if he goes 0-for-4 he is going to stand out for the way he plays the game," Red Sox assistant general manager Allard Baird said of the 2006 17th-round draft pick. "Besides the performance and obvious skill which he possesses, I think the aggressiveness with which he plays is also very impressive."

It is not unusual to see Reddick run full speed into the right-field wall, dive head first to catch a blooper or backup second base on a single to left field.

The traits, Reddick said, stem from his father. Kenny Reddick lost an arm and three fingers on his other hand in a power plant accident in Georgia that nearly took his life. But he still taught his son to swing a bat, and instilled in him the virtues of hard work and a certain fearlessness.

"My dad always said, 'If you are not going to show off all you got, then why be there?,' " Reddick said. "You never know what play is going to save the game."

Though nearly 2,500 miles apart, Reddick and his father remain close.

"I pretty much call him every other day before and after a game," Reddick said. "He knows me so well that he knows what I'm doing wrong without even seeing it. I'll say, 'I went 0-for-4 with two pop-ups, a line out and a rollover.' He'll say, 'You are dropping your back shoulder and jumping at the ball.' Sure enough that's what I am doing."

Competing Views

Reddick's father's advice is not always consistent with Boston's. "If you see something you can hit," Kenny told his son, "go ahead and put a bat on it." That's to the chagrin of the Red Sox, who are thrilled with his average but soured by his on-base percentage.

"Since I have signed, they tell me non-stop that I need to let more pitches go," Reddick said. "I'm trying to work deeper counts but it's tough because this is what I have done for the last eight years. I go up there looking for a certain pitch in a certain spot, but at the same time, if it's on the outer third I react and go at it."

The organization wants its players to see at least three pitches per at-bat, according to Lancaster manager Chad Epperson. Reddick averages 3.7, but that number belies his ability to foul away pitches instead of working a more favorable count.

"He does give some ABs away, chasing at some pitches he shouldn't," Epperson said. "But for a 21-year-old, it is pretty impressive to watch what he is doing."

The desire for more, coupled with an awe for what he has accomplished, illustrates the delicate balance of tutoring Reddick, a responsibility that falls to hitting coach Carlos Febles.

"You never want to take his aggressiveness away," Febles said. "He's a free-swinger and never going to be selective, so what you try and do with those guys is get them to see the pitch first and don't commit until they see the ball."

Febles has worked on keeping Reddick's upper body back to avoid lunging for breaking balls, but said he is in no way trying to change the means of Reddick's success.

"He can keep his hands back better than anybody," Febles said. "That is why he is so good."

Pursuit Of Aggressiveness

Scouts, however, rave even more about his play in the field, his hustle after balls in the gap and his work in and around the batting cage.

"He knows the ingredients you need to be a major leaguer," said a National League scout who watched Reddick for five games in July.

Like Baird, the scout spoke first about subtle aspects of the game, such Reddick's ability to take the extra base when hitting—or keep opponents from taking it when in the field. He was leading the California League with 15 assists, and opponents have all but stopped challenging him.

"When you talk about a good baserunner," Baird said, "you always talk about the idea of forcing the defense to stop you. Well with Reddick, he is so aggressive (that) I think he surprised a lot of baserunners."

Few realized just how many refined tools Reddick had in his box, even within the Red Sox organization. Had it not been for an extraordinary summer in 2006, the Red Sox might not have landed the Georgia native at all.

Boston first offered Reddick, whom they intended to make a draft-and-follow, a $60,000 bonus. But that wasn't enough, and Reddick decided to return to Middle Georgia Junior College for a second year. He finally signed when the offer was increased to $140,000 after Red Sox scouts watched him hit a home run off Ross Detwiler in a summer game.

Reddick said he was surprised to skip short-season Lowell, but his numbers did not reflect any ill effects. He hit .306/.352/.531 with 18 home runs and 72 RBIs for low Class A Greenville in 2007.

"It's happening real fast," Reddick said. "I never really expected to do this well. It has just kind of worked out for me."

And for the Red Sox, too.

Dan Goldberg covers the JetHawks for the Antelope Valley (Calif.) Press