When asked what position he played Rangers top prospect Willie Calhoun said “I’m a three-hole hitter.” As we ranked this list Willie Calhoun still had plenty of rookie eligibility left but since his call up July 20 it’s looking like he will surpass the 130 at bats to lose his rookie status next season.
This career second baseman turned outfielder has by far the loudest hit tool in the Rangers system and it isn’t particularly close. Watching Willie Calhoun hit for the first time is confounding. Seeing a player generously listed at 5’8”, you don’t think he can mash home runs off Justin Verlander but he does.
His profile is unlike most Ranger draft picks but Calhoun projects to be an everyday starting big leaguer. Defensively, if he's to see the field, he fits best in left field where he will spend most of his time there when he’s not DHing. Calhoun can make the plays he has to make but he will never be a plus defender and his arm strength isn’t plus but he does make accurate throws and hits the cut off man.
For a team that put Mike Napoli in left field for multiple games, the Rangers seemed overly concerned about Calhoun’s defensive prowess which is the stated reason for why it took nearly 100 games this season before we saw his return to the big leagues after a cup of coffee last September.
When I went down to watch Willie in Round Rock he was the first player out on the field and spent most of his pregame time working on his defense in left field. So, it's not without effort.
Willie has more swagger than any Rangers position player prospect has had in a long time, only Hans Crouse has more confidence in this farm system. When not proclaiming himself a future top of the lineup hitter, Calhoun might be found on Twitch playing Fortnite as a way to get out of his head and not burn out on baseball, and I’m sure he plays a good deal with Ronald Guzman now that they’re both in the majors together
Since that brief look in September of last season, and perhaps even before then, Willie Calhoun has been ready to hit MLB pitching. When the Rangers decided to start him in Round Rock this season, it wasn’t because he wasn’t ready to hit, it was because they didn’t have room on the roster to get Calhoun consistent at bats with him still learning a new position.
Texas’ main problem with Calhoun was the same problem they had with Jurickson Profar over the last few years. The team has too many players who play the same general role. Guzman, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara, Joey Gallo, Ronald Guzman, and Willie Calhoun are all lefty first base/DH/corner outfielders and the team has seen an increased need for Adrian Beltre to take some time at DH as well.
Couple that with the fact that Carlos Tocci is an outfielder who had to be protected on the roster as a Rule 5 draftee, and the fact that Ryan Rua is a right-handed option as a corner man, where the others, including Calhoun, are all left-handed batters, and the Rangers decided that Calhoun would have to wait his turn.
Starting the season back in the minors, Calhoun was disappointed not to make the big league roster and his April numbers showed it. After that rocky April his May numbers improved greatly. Then his June numbers jumped up a tick from there. In July, Willie tore the roof off of AAA slashing .429/.520/.619 in 63 at bats.
Finally, just after the All-Star break, Nomar Mazara went down with an injury which meant Calhoun got the long awaited call back to the big leagues. In the last few weeks of action, he has performed well in his first real extended look. Now that Mazara is on a rehab assignment, it’s likely Willie will be the one sent down when Mazara gets healthy again but there’s zero chance Calhoun isn’t back on the big club when rosters expand in September.
The Rangers will have an entire winter to figure out their corners/DH logjam but 2019 should be the year that Willie kicks down the door and forces the Rangers to find him a spot in the lineup every night.
Plus hit tool and plus power finds a way to fit on most any big league roster, no matter what kind of defender that player is. Willie Calhoun is a big leaguer right now, and if he keeps mashing pitching like he’s done his whole life, he’ll stay in the big leagues for a fairly long time.
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What does Willie Calhoun's future in Texas look like? Passable left field defender with a bat that forces its way into the lineup or DH slugger? Make your predictions to Brice on Twitter @80gradewhitt.