Big Willie Style: Calhoun’s Impressive Debut
Of the 1,215 players selected in the 2015 amateur draft, only 14 reached High-A (1.2 percent), and only a select three saw more than 50 plate appearances above A-ball. Second-overall pick, Alex Bregman; 132nd-overall pick, Willie Calhoun; and 852nd-overall pick, Kyle Garlick. We’ll get to the nearly-24 Garlick another day, but for now, we’ll focus on the prospect who went from playing at a community college to posting a .935 OPS in High-A in the course of three months, all at the age of 20.
Initially recruited by the University of Arizona, Calhoun transferred after one season of spotty playing time and uninspiring results. It was a year later at Yavapai Community College where Calhoun was downright Ruthian, hitting more home runs (31) than a majority of teams in the ACCAC (Arizona Community College Athletic Conference), and in turn, launching his name up draft boards. A word of warning, however: don’t let Calhoun’s dual-position distinction (2B/OF) fool you. It’s the result of limited range and an unpolished glove, which will likely relegate him to a corner-outfield role. The Dodgers were aware of his defensive deficits on draft day, and yet he’s exceeded even their expectations with the bat.
The positional misfit mashed from day one as a pro, producing a .278/.374/.517 triple-slash with seven home runs in just 38 games in the Pioneer League. Promoted to the Great Lakes Loons of the Midwest League, Calhoun flirted with .400 for 15 games before earning another promotion to the Cal League where he continued to flat-out rake. He hit .329/.395/.548 in 20 games, finishing the season with a combined .314 average, .390 OBP, and .519 slugging percentage, with 11 HR, 2 SB, and a 141 wRC+ in over 320 PA spread across three levels.
I’m not one to rely solely on lower-level minor league numbers to form an opinion on a player, and while there are certainly limitations to video scouting, I’m convinced Calhoun’s swing is just as impressive as his stat line. The following footage, provided by Bullpen Banter (RIP), is three years old at this point, so take into account he’s still in high school in the video.
There’s a lot to like about Calhoun’s hitting mechanics. He puts his hands in an ideal loading position, and does an excellent job keeping his top hand strong through the zone. He has fantastic bat speed, and he repeatedly reaches full-extension, meeting the ball well in front of the plate. He also demonstrates good balance in his live at-bats later in the video. He uses his strong core to generate considerably more pop than one might expect, and his swing produces natural loft. If nothing else, the video serves as support for Calhoun’s outstanding pro debut.
Consider his walk rate was nearly 11 percent, and he limited his strikeouts to under 12 percent; his OPS increased with every promotion, and he’s seven months younger than Bregman. It definitely seems like the Dodgers got a steal in the fourth round, and there’s a chance you can acquire Calhoun even more cheaply in your dynasty league. His name is out there now, recently appearing on multiple Dodgers’ top-10 prospect lists, as well as landing at no. 33 on Bret’s top-50 signees from 2015, but he might’ve flown under the radar in your league.
It’s tough to nail down an accurate comp in both talent and body type for Calhoun, so my mind keeps resorting to ‘a less athletic, left-handed hitting Mookie Betts‘. Of course, much of Betts’s overall value, in both fantasy and real baseball, is derived from his speed. Whereas, Calhoun will likely contribute very few stolen bases at any point in his career, and his lack of a true position could limit how quickly he’ll reach the big leagues. However, on the basis of hitting alone, Calhoun’s numbers are similar to Mookie’s, and at the very least, Calhoun is another example of a prospect initially overlooked due to size. The more likely scenario is that Calhoun develops into a solid yet unspectacular corner outfielder, but my gut tells me there’s something special about Calhoun’s bat.