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Dodgers top prospects 2016: No. 11, Willie Calhoun

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Willie Calhoun hit .329/.390/.548 with seven doubles and three home runs in 20 games after joining Class-A Rancho Cucamonga.
Willie Calhoun hit .329/.390/.548 with seven doubles and three home runs in 20 games after joining Class-A Rancho Cucamonga.
Photo: Tomo San | LA Dodgers

Willie Calhoun was a breath of fresh air for the Dodgers' 2015 draft class. While picks above him failed to sign, succumbed to injury, or struggled in Rookie League, Calhoun mashed his way through three levels and proved a vital cog in the heart of the California League champion's lineup. Calhoun’s offensive barrage was a continuation of his junior college season, where he hit .432 with 31 home runs in a friendly offensive environment. A player like Calhoun was available in the fourth round because he isn’t without his flaws, but Calhoun is already surpassing expectations and has the possibility to be special.

If you’ve read this far, you can probably tell that offense is Calhoun’s calling card. The power was expected after the draft, but what surprised was Calhoun’s advanced approach at the plate and feel for hitting. Calhoun has a loose, easy swing with exceptional feel for contact. He has employed two timing mechanisms seen on film, one a toe tap and the other a leg lift, and may vary between the two depending on situation, count, etc.

Calhoun’s power is currently pull heavy; all of his 2015 professional home runs went to right field, almost exclusively right down the foul line. While that would suggest that his raw power may not be much better than above average, it’s still a smallish sample size, and his usable game power is more than enough for second base. Calhoun already has a good idea of which pitches he can turn on for power, but doesn’t just sell out for home runs.

Calhoun’s smallish frame likely means we aren’t likely to see tremendous gains in his all-field power, but some improvement can be expected while he fine tunes his body. Calhoun has a short and stocky stature, and will need to work to maintain his athleticism and improve his agility to stay in the infield.

Most scouting reports are not kind to Calhoun on his defense, with many predicting a future move to left field. From brief looks at his pre-college showcases, Calhoun is not a natural mover at second and his hands work a little stiff, but that was two years ago. He made 18 errors at the position in just 73 professional games, but was used around the diamond in junior college.

Dodgers 2016 prospects: Nos. 21-25 Nos. 26-30 Nos. 31-61 Overview

I’m betting on improvement from Calhoun defensively at second base for a few reasons. For one, I heard anecdotally about his work ethic and willingness to improve, and it mirrors some of the success stories I observed while following the Colorado Rockies organization (I won’t name names to avoid unfair comparisons). Secondly, 2015 was a significant breakout for Calhoun’s pro prospects. After leaving the University of Arizona and putting up video game numbers in junior college, Calhoun flipped his future prospects in 12 months more than any player in the Dodgers’ system. Sometimes, that taste of success can be a powerful motivator to improve your shortcomings and see the out the process. Finally, he’s received a fall season and about to get a spring session of professional coaching and instruction and will be under the supervision of a motivated development team that wants to see Calhoun reach his potential.

I know you could make the same argument for many other players, and I’ll admit I’m playing a hunch on Calhoun, but I’m buying big into his potential. The bar to reach to play a competent second base is not tremendously high, and Calhoun’s offensive potential will carry his defensive shortcomings. He’s ranked this high already because the upside he possesses is that of an upper-division starter with middle-order capabilities. Falling short of that, Calhoun’s outlook may be that of a second-division starter in the outfield with a limited starting window.

For now, I’m putting more stock into Calhoun’s ceiling and feedback I’ve received on his strong character. He’s still at least a season away from being ready for the major leagues and I would expect that he start the season back in Class-A Rancho Cucamonga barring a big spring performance. He’ll be in line for a promotion to Double-A Tulsa at some point in 2016, where we’ll begin to better assess his future power outlook and defensive position. A second baseman with the ability to hit .285/.345/.485 at the big league level would rank much higher on this list a year from now, and that’s the type of profile I’m expecting to see.

2016 prospect list