September 13, 2017
The Situation: Willie Calhoun, perhaps the best pure hitter remaining in the high minors, received his call-up today. The Rangers needed to add Calhoun to the 40-man roster, and released Tyson Ross in a corresponding move. Calhoun has played a little second base and left field in the minors, transitioning to the outfield this season. Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels indicated that Calhoun would only be called up if the team could offer him significant at-bats. Given the Rangers current injury situation, the team is now in the position to provide Calhoun ample opportunity.
The Background: Calhoun was selected in the fourth round of the 2015 draft, 132nd overall by the Dodgers, and signed for a slightly below-slot $347,500. Calhoun played junior college ball at Yavapai, one of the nation’s best programs located outside of Phoenix. Calhoun hit immediately upon his introduction to pro ball, finishing 2015 with a .316 batting average. In first full season Calhoun launched 27 home runs, and earned a Future’s Game nomination playing in Double-A for the Tulsa Drillers. Calhoun was the centerpiece of the Rangers haul for Yu Darvish at this season’s trade deadline.
Scouting Report: A left, right profile, Calhoun has always possessed a preternatural bat-to-ball ability, with a career 11.5 percent strikeout rate in the minor leagues. Famously, during one of Clayton Kershaw’s simulated games, Kershaw began throwing Calhoun changeups because Calhoun was hitting everything else in his repertoire. More surprising is the amount of power Calhoun generates from his short frame, as evidenced by his slugging percentage north of .500. Calhoun’s power comes predominantly to the pull side, but his ability to control the zone so well prevents this from taking away from his offensive profile. Offensively (and physically) Calhoun resembles Pablo Sandoval with a little more pop, and a better eye.
Once you depart from evaluating Calhoun’s bat, everything else on the card is immediately below average. Originally a second baseman, Calhoun is undersized, with slow feet, and a weak arm, making him a poor fit anywhere on the dirt. A long overdue move to left field this season has the potential to be a landing spot for Calhoun, though he will need to work hard to approach an average grade there. He is perhaps best suited to becoming the Rangers full-time DH, though their glut of corner-type hitters could be prohibitive. Calhoun will be an interesting barometer for how much utility a team can glean from a bat-only type player, but his bat is about as dependable as they come these days.
Immediate Big-League Future: The Rangers are currently dealing with nagging injuries to Carlos Gomez, Rougned Odor, Nomar Mazara, and Adrian Beltre. Because of this, Calhoun should get a chance to take the lion’s share of work in the Ranger’s current left field platoon of Ryan Rua and Drew Robinson. Despite the multitude of DH-type players on the Texas lineup, Calhoun could also get the occasional start here. As of this writing, the Rangers are only two games out of the wild-card, and should still seek to field their most competitive lineup as they try to catch the Twins.
Fantasy Impact: Calhoun represents possibly the best offensive fantasy call-up for the remainder of this season. Calhoun should provide relatively safe batting average, and above-average pop. The biggest question mark is the amount of playing time he can lock down, though if the Rangers fall out of it, he’s all but guaranteed to get consistent at-bats as guys like Beltre, Gomez, Mike Napoli and Shin-Soo Choo could all get shut down. Calhoun gives you a realistic shot at around four home runs, and a .280 average over the season’s final three weeks. As a bonus, Calhoun sports 2B eligibility, though he likely will lose it next season.
Calhoun is a classic case of a guy that goes under the radar in some fantasy leagues due to his relatively low rank on prospect lists due to defensive deficiencies. For me, Calhoun is a must add in dynasty formats, and should be worth a long look in keeper formats as well. Calhoun checked in at 76 in our 101 dynasty prospects to start this season, and barely cracked Baseball America’s Top 100, at 92. He could realistically crack the top-20 on the list next season.