One of the biggest challenges ahead for the Texas Rangers throughout the remainder of Spring Training and beyond is figuring out where exactly all of their seemingly odd shaped puzzle pieces fit into their difficult roster jigsaw puzzle. Arguably the most confounding piece of that puzzle is 23 year-old Willie Calhoun.
The stocky, 5’8″ Vallejo, California native became a part of the Rangers organization as one of the three prospects Texas got in return for shipping staff ace Yu Darvish to the Los Angeles Dodgers right before the trade deadline last summer.
Calhoun is a gifted hitter who has showed a ton at the minor league level. In 128 AAA games last season between the Oklahoma City Dodgers and the Round Rock Express, Calhoun had a .300 batting average with over 30 home runs and 90 plus RBI. Once September rolled around, he was brought up the big leagues and made a modest impact in limited opportunities: hitting .265 with a homer and 8 RBI in 13 games for the Rangers.
Despite primarily playing as a second baseman in the minor leagues, the left-hander started 11 games of the 13 games he appeared in left field and 1 at DH. The club has said all the right things as far as him possibly being a legitimate option in left field this season, but most of his appearances have come as the designated hitter so far in 10 Spring Trainin games.
What Will Be His Role?
With the likes of Jurickson Profar, Ryan Rua, Drew Robinson and Shin-Soo Choo all competing for at bats and defensive opportunities at the same position as the younger Calhoun, it might be a matter of “Wait your turn” for the young hitter who really doesn’t have a definite position.
Choo is owed $20 million each of this next three seasons and it’s unlikely the Rangers have found any takers for his contract without Texas being on the hook for the overwhelming majority of the money remaining on the contract, so it’s going to take a lot for Shin-Soo Choo to be a healthy scratch from games while Calhoun, who isn’t a free agent until 2024, is in the lineup instead.
With Profar, the 25 year-old is out of minor league options and is too talented to not work in some way, some how. While the team has indicated Profar is not a contender for the starting left fielder spot, he’s tied to Calhoun in that any backup infield innings would go to Profar. If Rougned Odor continues to struggle like he did most of last season, it could be Profar getting major playing time at second base instead of Calhoun.
When it comes to guys like Drew Robinson and Ryan Rua, it’s more likely that Calhoun could leapfrog this pair for playing time. While both are more athletic and better defenders than Calhoun, it’s unlikely either could come close to equal the production of Calhoun at the plate. This pair has had their share of major league opportunities as well. At 27, Ryan Rua has over 200 games and 550 at bats to his name at the major league level. Robinson is slightly more fresh at just 25. He also made a bigger impression in his rookie season while showing off his athleticism and occasional power at the plate in 48 games with the Rangers last season.
With just three or so weeks left until Opening Day, Willie Calhoun’s role for 2018 is very uncertain. The ball is likely in his court, though. Texas would love for him to force their hand and make him an everyday player if he were to outshine his competition. With the offensive numbers he has put up in the past, that might not be too much of a challenge.
When you’re the main piece coming back in a trade for one of the most notable players in franchise history, all eyes are going to be on you to make the deal worth it. What will Willie Calhoun do with the audience watching?
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