NEWTON, Mass. -- The Boston Red Sox have made their Rookie Development Program an annual rite of passage for prospects in the organization.
Each winter a dozen or so prospects are invited to Boston for a two-week course that covers everything related to the Red Sox, both on and off the diamond. It's designed to help the young players make the transition to the big leagues and ease any anxiety they might have, whether they're called up on an emergency basis or as a full-timer.
Mostly, the players learn the non-baseball aspects of playing in the Red Sox organization, and even live with a host family during their winter stay.
The program has changed a bit over the past few years, but the goal remains the same.
The Red Sox bring in different speakers, including Red Sox manager Terry Francona, pitching coach Curt Young, hitting coach Dave Magadan and Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. The prospects also are put through media training.
For part of the time, the players work on their baseball skills under the watchful eye of the player development staff. Red Sox director of player development Mike Hazen explained the organization's criteria for whom it invites to the camp is based on a player's window to the big leagues or his likely ability to impact the major league roster within 12 to 18 months.
The players who were invited this winter include: pitchers Robert Coello, Stephen Fife, Stolmy Pimentel, Jason Rice, Clevelan Santeliz and Alex Wilson; catchers Tim Federowicz and Ryan Lavarnway; infielders Will Middlebrooks and Oscar Tejeda; and outfielder Juan Carlos Linares.
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, such as last season's deluge of injuries, the Red Sox roster is set for a long time and there aren't too many openings. A young player in the organization can see that logjam, but the Red Sox try to communicate with these prospects that it doesn't mean there's a dead end on their career path to the majors.
"We hammer that a lot," Hazen said Wednesday morning as the players worked out at Boston College's Alumni Stadium. "First of all, the track record speaks for itself. Over the last four or five years, we've had the same caliber of player with the same payroll commitments in a lot of cases, and most of these guys have come up and gotten an opportunity to go up and play."
The message is basic for these prospects.
"If you're good enough to play, we will find a place for you to play on this roster," Hazen said. "It may not be on your time frame, and it may not be on Day 1, but if you're good enough and you're going to impact this club over the course of 162 games, we need you and you will find your way up here."
Epstein and Francona have proved the organization is not afraid of trusting a young player in a big league game. If the opportunity presents itself, the Red Sox are willing to give a prospect the chance to prove his worth.
"It may be for two weeks, it may be for a month, but that will give you the opportunity to at least go out and show what you can do," Hazen said.
During this winter program, the players also are schooled in other opportunities the Red Sox are involved in on a yearly basis -- the trade market. As much pride as the Sox take in scouting, drafting, signing and developing homegrown talent, Epstein & Co. aren't afraid to pull the trigger on a major transaction that could include many of the organization's top talent.
Case in point: When the Red Sox had the opportunity to trade for Adrian Gonzalez this offseason, Epstein was able to acquire the slugging first baseman from the San Diego Padres in exchange for Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, Reymond Fuentes and a player to be named (Eric Patterson).
"That's part of the job and part of the business," Hazen said. "We talk to the players about that as well. You're in Boston and sometimes we need to make a deal to get a player like Adrian Gonzalez and you may get put into that deal. It's not always a fun situation, but for those younger players, it may be a better and quicker opportunity to get to the big leagues."
Ryan Kalish, who participated in the program last winter, was not asked to attend this winter's program, but he asked the organization for an invite. One reason Kalish wanted to come back is that he's the perfect example for young players of what can happen at any time during the Red Sox season. With the injuries to the Red Sox outfielders last season, Kalish was called up to Boston and played a significant role.
During his rookie season, Kalish appeared in 53 games and posted a .252 batting average with four home runs and 24 RBIs. He also showcased his defensive prowess. But because the Sox now have Carl Crawford in left, both Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron able to play center, and J.D. Drew in right, Kalish is likely to begin the season at Triple-A Pawtucket.
Kalish made it a point to acknowledge that he's a team player and it wouldn't serve any purpose to be bitter about the roster situation.
"I'm just trying to get better as a player," Kalish said. "I'm trying to get better for myself, so if and when that time comes and they call me to help them win, I'll be ready. Wherever I start is no big deal. I just want to play and I want to get better, and that's what I'm here to do.
"I'm psyched that we signed him [Crawford]. He's going to make our team really good. He's elite. For us, as players, it's going to be really good to sit back and watch. He's proven and he deserves everything he's got. I'm excited to really watch him and learn."
While Kalish already has enjoyed a taste of the big leagues, Lavarnway will continue to hone his skills in the minors. He split time between Class A Salem and Double-A Portland last season, and was Boston's 2010 minor league co-offensive player of the year. He combined to hit .288 with 22 homers and 102 RBIs with Salem and Portland.
Lavarnway is likely to start the 2011 season with the Sea Dogs, and he's another prospect who is in a long line for a big league job with the Red Sox.
"We all trust Theo Epstein and that he wants to put together a winning team. We respect that," Lavarnway said. "Eventually, when we get to the major leagues, we want to be a part of a winning team. We want those players here. We want those future Hall of Famers, the guys we were fans of before we got drafted. I'm still a fan of these guys."
"The fact that there aren't many open roster spots just makes us want to be better, so when that roster spot does open up we're here to help these guys win," Lavarnway said. "Hopefully we make an impression and can stick."
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox and Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.