ROUND ROCK, Texas — When you’re developing a top prospect in the minor leagues, time is everything. Texas Rangers power-hitting pupil Willie Calhoun has plenty of it, and he’s committing to improving every little bit of himself at the Triple-A ranks.
Ranked by Baseball America as the Rangers’ number-one prospect (36th overall), Calhoun is a pure hitting machine. His 31 home runs last season propelled him to Triple-A All-Star status in 2017, but now, Calhoun is dedicated to becoming a more disciplined and well-rounded hitter.
“Just being able to hit my pitch and making sure I hit when I get it [is key], and not being too aggressive and over-anxious.” Calhoun said post-game. “Around this league, they have a pretty good idea on how to pitch to me and whatever, so I play this little cat and mouse game with them as well. I’m always trying to get better and hit to my strengths.”
If you asked Calhoun what position he plays, he would tell you he just hits third. He’s an intriguing prospect in that the left-handed slugger has no set position on the field, but a versatile, powerful bat will always keep him in the lineup.
Such was the case on Saturday night in Round Rock, Texas. The Triple-A affiliate of the Rangers, the Round Rock Express, hit Calhoun in the three-hole and immediately reaped the benefits. Though the Express dropped the decision to the Iowa Cubs by a 7-3 final score, Calhoun went 3-for-4 with two singles (one of which came on a ten-pitch at-bat), a double, a walk, and a run.
“You just try to focus on going out there and playing your hardest every day and giving the team your all,” he said. “You don’t like losing, so you come to the yard every day playing to win, [but] you try not to really focus on the outcome.”One of the most intriguing prospects in baseball, @11WillieCalhoun talks to Baseball Essential on his development in Triple-A.Click To Tweet
Calhoun is slashing .254/.325/.386 with three home runs, 11 RBIs, 11 walks, and nine extra base hits in 2018, leading the Express in hits with 29. He’s starting to look like the major-league-caliber player Texas acquired for Yu Darvish in a trade-deadline swap with the Los Angeles Dodgers last summer, and at just 23, the sky is the limit for the Californian.
There should be a certain arrogant swagger from a 23-year-old who was valuable enough to be traded for a pitcher who recently signed a $126 million contract. With Calhoun, it’s all work and no brazen self-importance. “I don’t really pay attention to that,” Calhoun said. “I don’t really like to put myself on that pedestal. I just go out there and give it my all every single day.”
In the Dodgers system, the 5’8″, 210-pound Calhoun was a remarkable and uniquely powerful hitter for a guy his height with the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers. The transition 370 miles south on Interstate 35 to Central Texas has been an easy one, as Calhoun is letting his talent do the talking for him.
“It’s the same game, nothing changed that much for me. I’m just going out there and having fun, trying to put together some good at-bats and play hard.”
Just to give you a little taste of his future in the bigs, Bleacher Report compares Calhoun to a defensively lesser Jason Kipnis, a two-time American League All-Star. Calhoun has a 60 hit and power tool (20-80 grade scale) according to MLB.com‘s Jonathan Mayo. He is on the Rangers’ 40-man roster, and he likely will not be a member of the Express for long.
Calhoun has played a variety of spots on the diamond in farm systems, from left field, to right field, to second base, to shortstop, to third base, to first base, to designated hitter. On Saturday, he slotted in as the left fielder, tracking down four fly ball putouts in nine innings of work.
Left field is where the bulk of Calhoun’s starts have been coming recently, and the former Baseball America All-Minor League Second Team honoree is getting accustomed to the ins and outs of corner outfield play in Round Rock. “The more reps I get out there, the more comfortable I feel, and I’m feeling real good.”
Where Calhoun fits into a Rangers lineup currently consisting of other power lefties like Joey Gallo and Nomar Mazara is something nobody knows. But in the clubhouse and in the lineup, Calhoun sees himself blending right in when the time comes. “That’s a good group of guys up there, they’re young, and they like to have fun,” Calhoun says. “That fits right into my personality and my playing style, so I’m looking forward to it.”
The Rangers have recently fallen into that pit of mediocrity swirling through MLB. Their fastest path back to relevance will come on the shoulders of a young, humble, left-handed, tater-mashing slugger named Willie Calhoun.