Ryan Kalish creating buzz in camp

MESA, Ariz. -- It’s been a long road back to the majors for Chicago Cubs non-roster invitee Ryan Kalish.

He’s not quite there yet, but Kalish has a chance to make the team as an extra outfielder for one simple reason: He’s healthy and hitting.

He’s already survived two rounds of cuts, including the latest on Tuesday, when the Cubs sent down two former No. 1 picks.

“With the progression I’ve made in spring, I’m certainly proud of myself and happy with it,” Kalish said Tuesday before getting on base three more times against the Texas Rangers. “Being a non-roster invitee is new for me, but I also came up through the minor leagues and worked my way through tons of levels to get to the major leagues. It’s not unfamiliar territory.”

Kalish is healthy for the first time in three seasons after going through a brutal neck surgery not unlike what quarterback Peyton Manning went through. His troubles started when he crashed into the wall in a minor league game in 2011 for Triple-A Pawtucket in the Boston Red Sox organization. He was a rising prospect at the time, having won Red Sox rookie of the year in 2010.

Fast forward to 2013, when he had to have two surgeries, on his shoulder and then neck. In between were some hard times.

“I was sad a lot. I was down a lot,” Kalish said. “I thought about quitting, especially when you’re talking about neck surgeries. Stuff that maybe you shouldn’t go through.”

He went through them anyway, and when the Red Sox non-tendered him this past December, the Cubs -- and his former employer Theo Epstein -- grabbed him. He has created a buzz in camp with his speed and ability to get on base.

“That was never my goal; just to be healthy was my goal,” he said.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria added: “Kalish is a baseball player. Thankfully he’s healthy. We’re trying to give him as many opportunities as we can to be out there. He busts his rear end every single day.”

Kalish is hitting .320 in spring games with an on-base percentage over .450 and five stolen bases. He hit every ball hard on Tuesday night, and his aggressive nature hasn’t changed even with the time away from competition. He’s pleasantly surprised his swing has progressed enough to be considered for a roster spot.

“I think I’m unsure every day,” Kalish said. “When you get sure about this game that’s when it backfires.

“There is so much that goes into this game that I think helps you in life, too. It’s the most humbling thing you can do.”