Believe it or not the Angels actually do have some youth on the position player side of their roster besides Our Lord and Savior Trout. Kole Calhoun is the new young gun tasked with setting the table for the Halos this season. Is he ready for the challenge?
*The MWAH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research (my wOBA calculation is approximate because my math skills are only “meh”)
What happened in 2013?
Many had pegged Calhoun for a bench job coming out of spring training in 2013, but he struggled throughout camp and wound being assigned back to Triple-A to refine some issues in his swing and approach. He lasted all of one game for the Bees before he suffered a broken hand, putting him on the shelf for several weeks.
That turned out to be poorly timed for the Angels as they had injury issues of their own when Peter Bourjos hurt his hamstring and missed the entire month of May. That should have been the perfect opportunity to call up Calhoun, but he was still healing, so J.B. Shuck got the call instead. Calhoun eventually came back and utterly dominated the PCL with a .454 wOBA as he patiently waited for another opportunity in the majors to present itself.
It wasn’t until the very end of July when Albert Pujols’ foot finally gave out that Calhoun actually did get the call. It didn’t take long for Kole to secure an everyday job. When you look at his numbers, it is easy to see why. Calhoun did what he has done at every single level of his professional career: hit for average, get on base and show solid pop.
With a .282/.347/.462 slash line, including handling the limited lefties he saw quite well, and playing solid defense in right field, Calhoun really gave the Angels no other choice than to adjust their plans for 2014 so that he was prominently featured.
What do the projections think he will do in 2014?
What’s interesting about the projections for Calhoun is that they seem more than comfortable with him continuing to draw a good amount of walks and posting a league average or better OBP. What they don’t foresee is Calhoun being to hit for much of an average. That is a little weird to me just because he has for a high average at every level. To be fair, with the exception of the majors, he has been old and advanced for the levels he has stopped in.
The thing is that the projections don’t think he is going to have a lot of contact problems. The strikeout rates they forecast are perfectly normal for the type of hitter he is and his projected BABIPs are well within expected ranges as well. I guess there is a lack of faith that he’ll make hard contact as his projected power numbers are pretty bland.
Perhaps it is that the projections don’t see him being able to handle southpaws as well as he has throughout his career. In the tiny sample of 50 plate appearances against lefties in 2013, Calhoun popped a .389 wOBA, but it was predicated on a .457 BABIP. His walk rate was down at 5.6% and his strikeouts were at 25.9%. That would be cause for concern, but it is such a small sample that it should not be given much credence.
Does the Monkey agree or disagree?
Forget all of that noise, I’m all on board with the Kole Calhoun bandwagon. The most obvious oversight to me is the very low projections for runs and RBIs for Calhoun. Not that those stats are worth caring about, but given that he is going to bat leadoff, it is hard to see how he won’t score a ton of runs.
As for the stuff that really counts, I think everything is going to work out just fine. There is little doubt that Calhoun knows how to work an at-bat. He has great control of the strike zone and should have no trouble drawing walks and taking pitches. If anything, I think he might be a little too into taking pitches based on his comments about what he thinks he needs to do in order to be an effective leadoff man. I think that is going to lead to a little bit of Calhoun taking pitches for the sake of taking pitches and putting himself in bad counts more than normal, which is why I have his strikeout rate higher than the projections.
I’m also a big fan of his power. I don’t think he is going to have a .200+ ISO like he did in the minors, but he has the ability to his 20+ homers. It will help that because he is hitting in front of Trout, he might get a few cookies down the middle from pitchers that don’t want to walk someone with Trout on-deck.
What are the known unknowns?
The power projection is one that I fully admit I am no so sure about. Calhoun certainly showed very good power in the minors, but he also only played in leagues that were extremely hitter friendly. We never got the usual Angel prospect litmus test of trying to hit balls out of Dickey-Stephens Park with the Travelers. Kole skipped that level.
I suppose it is also possible that Calhoun may get exposed by left-handed pitching. There is nothing in his track record to suggest that will happen, but he’s going to have to prove it at the big league level. If he does struggle somewhat, that could result in Calhoun sitting versus some or all lefties or, at a minimum, batting in the bottom part of the order whenever a southpaw is starting. We will have to see what Scioscia chooses to do there.
Other than that, Calhoun seems primed to be a bit of a secret weapon for the Halos this year.