Buy ‘Em or Deny ‘Em: Has The Time Come to Officially Write Off Willie Calhoun?

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Willie Calhoun has often been a highly hyped prospect, though when he’s gotten his chance in the Majors he’s generally underwhelmed.  Over the past two seasons he’s racked up 145 PA for the Rangers, hitting a meager .233 (31-133) with 3 HR, 15 RBI, 11 R and 0 SB.

It’s easy to be down on him, given those numbers coupled with a significant drop in power at Triple-A last season (9 HR over 470 PA).  Considering that’s supposed to be his carrying tool, there appears to be little reason for hope.

There was still some hope entering Spring Training, with the Rangers set to undergo a fairly extensive rebuild.  That said they aren’t short on outfielders, with Joey Gallo, Delino Deshields and Nomar Mazara set to open the year starting.  There was room for Calhoun to make the team as the fourth outfielder, but he was beaten out by Hunter Pence and instead was sent to Triple-A.

And this is where things start to get even more concerning.  First you have to note the spring performance, which justifies his demotion:

.217 (10-46), 0 HR, 8 RBI, 3 R, 0 SB

While he has at least been making contact (6 K), his average and just 2 doubles help to tell us that he needs more work.  These consistent struggles loom large, but new questions about his makeup further clouds the issue (this comes courtesy of MLB.com):

The Rangers understand Willie Calhoun is disappointed about being optioned, but the clock is now ticking on when he will officially report to Triple-A Nashville.  According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, a player has 72 hours to report even if it is essentially a walk down the hall at the Rangers’ complex. Texas gave Calhoun the day off Thursday, and he did not report Friday.

It’s understandable that he’s frustrated with the decision, but it’s hard to argue against it.  The lack of production has been going on for far too long, and it’s easy to say that he’ll be better served playing regularly at Triple-A to try and work out the issues (as opposed to sporadic playing time as a bench player in the Majors). 

His demotion should not be a big story, but at this point it is.  He does make consistent contact, but unless he can overcome this and rediscover his power (something that was always a question, listed at 5’8”) he is never going to emerge as a factor.  Maybe this ultimately turns into a positive but at this point it’s easy to ignore him.

Sources – Fangraphs, MLB.com, MILB.com

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3 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t necessarily agree here.

    If your context is solely the 2019 season, then probably true. But you’re making it sound like he should be written off entirely, which I think would be a mistake. Calhoun turned his life around over the winter losing 20 pounds by eating right and working out. I read somewhere that the Rangers didn’t care that Calhoun wasn’t hitting this spring because he’s proven that he can hit. They wanted to see how his defense had improved with the weight loss, and it had, supposedly. Word was that he was getting to balls in the OF that he never used to. Unfortunately for Calhoun, Pence came into camp and put up a .974 OPS in the most PA’s on the team. I also don’t believe that the Rangers were super upset about having to send Calhoun down to AAA. We all know how much teams love to manipulate service time. And although the Rangers haven’t been egregious offenders of this in the recent past, it can’t be ruled out as a factor for his demotion.

    Now let’s look at Calhoun’s numbers. Last year in AAA he put up a .294/.351/.431 OPS his second time through as a 23 year old, which was down from the .300/.355/.572 he posted as a 22 year old in AAA. He admits that his down year was a result of his poor habits and conditioning. Hence the lifestyle change over the winter. One thing stayed consistent though and you didn’t mention how elite it was. His strikeout rate. I did my best to try and find strikeout rates for AAA players and I couldn’t so I found AAA stats and sorted by K’s and then looked for a similar number of AB’s. There were 4 players with similar K rates. 2 guys who aren’t prospects and Kevin Newman. And Calhoun was better than Newman by a half percent(10.5% to 10%).

    So, we’ve got a guy that clearly has an elite combination of batting eye and contact skill. He’s shown that he has power in the past. He’s hit and hit well at a very young age every stop through the minors. The kid got in the best shape of his adult life over the winter and had a rough spring. I don’t have to tell you how poor the relation between ST numbers and regular season numbers are. He’s probably still getting used to his new body, and you’re right that there are some adjustments that will need to be made in AAA. I’m sure he’s very disappointed with the Rangers decision. Wouldn’t anyone be? I guess my point is that he’s too young and too talented to write off over one bad ST after he finally got in shape and decided that it was time to take baseball seriously.

      • No one is ignoring, we do the best we can 🙂

        I’m not suggesting that he can’t figure it out, but the “best shape of his life” cliche means little (as does Spring Training numbers). There was always concerns that the power wasn’t for real, and he needs to prove otherwise. Without that his value is going to be nil, so we’ll have to wait and see what happens at Triple-A this season

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