PHOENIX — Willie Calhoun hasn’t yet seen his first game action of the spring, but his camp so far has been as busy as just about anyone on the Dodgers.
The Dodgers second base prospect has been working daily since before camp began with the strength and conditioning staff, and getting one-on-one guidance at second base from third base coach and infield instructor Chris Woodward.
Calhoun is one of just four Dodgers position players who did not play in any of the Dodgers’ first four games. Two of the other three — Adrian Gonzalez and Trayce Thompson — are nursing injuries, along with Wynston Sawyer, one of six catchers in camp.
"He's working so hard off the field. Every day off the field it's extra ground balls and all the conditioning stuff and weights. He's here early,” manager Dave Roberts said on Tuesday. “For me, to extend his day doesn't make a lot of sense. He'll get in games soon.”
Calhoun’s days have been extended, just not physically. He has been in the dugout during games, including making the trip to Salt River Fields on Tuesday. He’s on the travel roster again to Scottsdale on Wednesday night against the Giants.
There is an experiential benefit to being in major league camp, and Calhoun is soaking it all in, taking advantage of firsthand instruction from the major league coaching staff.
At issue with Calhoun is his defense. Nobody questions his bat, which most prospect wonks feel will play in the major leagues. The Dodgers’ 2015 fourth-round draft pick hit .254/.318/.469 with 27 home runs in his first full season as a 21-year-old in the Texas League with Double-A Tulsa last year.
Calhoun is all about hitting. He exudes hitting. To wit:
You know it's bad when you have a trunk full of bats... pic.twitter.com/eywAEEXSsJ— June Calhoun (@11WillieCalhoun) February 20, 2017
Entering 2017, Calhoun was rated the 82nd-best prospect in baseball by MLB.com and the 92nd-best by Baseball America. Baseball Prospectus has him ranked just outside their top 101 prospects.
"He has ascended through talent,” Roberts said. “To be a complete baseball player is really important, and taking care of his body is important. We're hitting him from all angles, and he's doing a great job.”
The comments from the prospect experts had a similar theme.
From Baseball Prospectus:
The fact that his defense was shaky enough to keep his bat off our list altogether says it all. It isn’t just the lack of range—which can be compensated for with advanced defensive positioning. It’s the awkward throwing motion and stiff actions which give evaluators an anxious feeling every time the ball is hit in his direction. It’s too early to rule out Calhoun ever developing into a passable second baseman with the glove, but he hasn’t shown nearly as much development as hoped.
From Baseball America:
As gifted as Calhoun is at the plate, he’s a long way from being an adequate defender at second base. He’s a well below-average runner with limited range and first-step quickness and a below-average arm. He also boots too many routine plays with hard hands and awkward defensive actions.
That would be quality production for a second baseman, but Calhoun probably won't remain in the infield. His quickness, hands and arm all grade as below average at second, though he has worked hard on his defense. An outfielder and third baseman at Yavapai, he's most likely to wind up in left field and has enough bat to profile there.
Keith Law at ESPN did not consider Calhoun for his top 100 prospects, and was asked why on Twitter:
@TrippJc Doubtful. Well below average runner. Zero chance he plays 2b for me.— keithlaw (@keithlaw) January 27, 2017
This is why the Dodgers are working so closely with Calhoun this spring, maximizing his first big league spring training.
"This is a guy who can really swing the bat. Our infield guy hasn't really put eyes on him, so to break him down mechanically we feel that on the back end it will really help Willie,” Roberts said. “Also, it's just getting a routine, in the cage, in the weight room. Essentially it's a crash course.”
Roberts said Calhoun will only see time at second base this spring. No other positions.
"[Woodward] said he likes his actions, and there are some mechanical things he can clean up,” Roberts said. “The aptitude is there, the willingness is there. Woody had him before camp started, and even now said there has been drastic improvement in Willie's defense.
"We're asking a lot of him. ... The work ethic is there.”