One full season into Willie Calhoun’s professional career and we still don’t have a great grasp on his ultimate future at the major league level. Calhoun entered 2016 with the reputation for plus offensive skills and negative defensive skills, and he starts 2017 with the exact same questions. While there’s little doubt that Calhoun will be a quality hitter at the next level, it remains to be seen if he can find a defensive home that would allow him to stay with the Dodgers.
Calhoun largely picked up 2016 where he left off 2015, hitting .273/.341/.508 in the first half at Double A Tulsa before fading down the stretch. His struggles continued in the Arizona Fall League, though he put the ball in play at an extremely high rate and could have just been hit unlucky. Despite the second half fade, Calhoun once again showed advanced offensive skills and the potential to eventually make a home in the middle of a big league order.
Often associated with his other Tulsa teammates Cody Bellinger and Alex Verdugo, Calhoun is the offensive middle ground of the three. Calhoun has superb bat-to-ball skills and an advanced batting eye. He already knows which pitches he can pull and produces most of his power production to the right side of the field. If anything, Calhoun could be a little more patient early in the count to work the pitches more in his favor, but that’s a minor quibble.
Calhoun has both good bat speed and a lengthy swing, both helping him in maxing out his power potential in his small frame. Calhoun will shorten his swing to make contact behind in the count, or when faced against a tougher left handed pitcher. While he presently shows a notable platoon split, Calhoun has a sound approach in facing same siders and could execute better in the future. Though pull conscious, he also showed a willingness to go the other way at times to beat the shift.
For the most part, Calhoun swings for power. He has a high-timing leg kick that also works to shift his strong lower half into contact. His bat plane is a slight uppercut that generates loft and should give him plus power potential for a second baseman, but also enough power to eventually shift to left field if need be. He doesn’t have much physical development left, so all-fields power is not likely in the offering down the road.
The problem with Calhoun as a National League prospect is that his best future role might be designated hitter. Calhoun has a short and stout 5’8 frame that is not only already filled out, but looks vulnerable to carrying too much heft. His smallish frame also could lead to some of the tiring and fatigue he experienced down the stretch, and Calhoun will need to continue to work to improve his conditioning and athleticism.
His lack of athleticism and agility is also evident in the field, where Calhoun struggled at second base. Already smallish, Calhoun lacks range and the foot speed to cover much ground. Additionally, his hands are not smooth at the position and he lacks ideal footwork and actions around the bag.
Luckily for Calhoun, time is very much on his side, and Los Angeles does not need to be a rush to determine his long-term future with the club. Calhoun looks to be a hard worker off the field and can still put in the time to not just become average at the position but better. Such improvement is not likely to happen overnight, but Calhoun’s bat has carried him well ahead of schedule that he could spend time repeating Double-A to focus on defense while also attempting to put in a dominant offensive season at the level.
Without improved defense, Calhoun’s value to the Dodgers might be the highest in trade. Again, Calhoun has the offensive potential to hit in the middle of a big league order, and his near-ready bat could appeal to some American League teams with room at designated hitter. Those teams would also have to overlook his size, where 5’8 would be a rare stature for the generally large, hulking positional prototype.
While Calhoun did help Oklahoma City in their playoff effort, I’m not convinced he will head there to start the season. Calhoun’s defense and withering down the stretch suggest to me he still has something to prove in Double-A, and he might just need a half season back at the level before moving on. Improved defense at second base is the only thing separating Calhoun from being a blue chip prospect in the future and being the one dimensional intrigue that he is now.