Willie Stay or Willie Go?

July 1, 2020

Sometimes injuries hit your fantasy baseball team out of nowhere, kind of like a fastball to Willie Calhoun’s face.

This week’s column is about figuring out the value of Calhoun coming off an unexpected injury.

Make no mistake: Calhoun was going to be a breakout candidate this season, but he had to

Chris Steele
Is a prospect fanatic, and person who finds himself asking why he is so tired all the time while playing The Show at 2 a.m.

take a long road through the minors to reach this point.

He struggled after being the key piece of the Yu Darvish trade in 2017.

Calhoun still found a way to make his debut that season playing 13 games, and he seemed poised to grab a roster spot in 2018.

However, Calhoun started 2018 in the minors for his “defense” (arbitration).

Calhoun didn’t take the demotion well, voicing his displeasure and having his numbers drop to a concerning level batting .229 by the end of April.

Calhoun’s time finally came but not because he had defeated AAA. It came because of injuries.
His struggles worsened in the majors he played in 35 games and hit .222 with a weighted runs created plus (WRC+) of 53. To put his numbers in perspective, an average player should have a WRC+ of 100, so Calhoun was half as good as a regular MLB player.

Calhoun slimmed down for the start of the 2019 season, and his approach to AAA changed. He proved quickly he needed to be on the MLB roster after a short stay in AAA to start the season in ’19.

Despite a crowded Texas Rangers outfield, Calhoun found pretty consistent playing time last year.
After his call up, he played in 83 games and finishing the season hitting .269/.323/.524 with 21 home runs in 337 plate appearances.

He was above average in hard-hit rate and exit velocity which gave him a profile similar to Eduardo Escobar who was another breakout player last season.

He also pulled the ball 50 percent (league average is about 37 percent) of the time which allowed him to have a high home run rate, and he hit well against the shift too.

His only issue last season was he popped up often probably among the top 10 players in baseball with the same amount of at-bats.

Knowing all of this, what do we think of Calhoun now?

It’s going to depend on the ball. If the live ball that MLB used during the regular season returns this year, Calhoun would have the potential to be among the league leaders in home runs because of his raw power and ability to hit the bottom third of the baseball. If the baseball used during the MLB playoffs returns this season, Calhoun could be in trouble because his propensity to pop the ball up could result in more outs and foul balls that stay in play.

However, I think the biggest problem for Calhoun will be his attitude.

The Rangers cleared a path for Calhoun to play everyday moving Nomar Mazara to the Chicago White Sox.

Then Calhoun’s big break (pun intended) came in spring training after being hit in the face with a pitch. The good news is that Calhoun won’t need to have his mouth wired shut which should allow for a quicker recovery.   However, Calhoun finds himself waiting again for the first two or three months as he gets back up to speed.

Also, it took Jason Heyward almost a year to get back to playing like himself after getting hit in the face in 2013. Heyward missed the end of the 2013 season, and he had his second-worst season as a pro in 2014. 

This is why his trials and tribulations in the minors are important for Calhoun. This injury is as much mental as it is physical. 

Calhoun’s history of overcoming adversity isn’t good, and prospect Nick Solak has the ability to grab hold of the opportunity and supplant Calhoun with some added playing time to start the season.

Calhoun’s reaction to this injury could be catastrophic.

A setback like this will really test how far Calhoun has come.

Will he come back more determined as he did in 2019 or will he be the 2018 player who just folds and feels sorry for himself?

So Willie or won’t he?