When you look at the Double-A home run leaders, it probably is not a tremendous surprise that big 6-foot-4 Rhys Hoskins or monstrous 6-foot-6 Dylan Cozens are atop the charts. What may come as a surprise is that Willie Calhoun has become one of the bigger power threats in all three leagues on the Double-A level. All 5-foot-8 of him.
Calhoun is amid a career — one that has him regarded as the fourth-best second base prospect in the land according to MLB Pipeline — that almost wasn’t. He had a very modest freshman year on the field for University of Arizona, slashing .247/.345/.301 with no home runs and just six doubles. Off of the field, Calhoun struggled with maintaining his grades, eventually leaving Arizona.
Not knowing what his next step was in his baseball career, Calhoun enrolled at Yavapai Junior College, where he exploded onto the scene, elevating his draft stock once again. He slashed .432/.520/.952 that 2015 season, with 31 home runs and 23 doubles, posting a remarkable strikeout-to-walk ratio of 13-to-38.
“At Arizona,” Calhoun said, “what I learned was not to give up. You have to keep fighting through things no matter what happens. You have to have always have a positive mindset about everything.”
A few months later, Calhoun got the phone call that changed his life.
“Dustin Yount [the Dodgers Arizona area scout] called me and told me the Dodgers were going to take me in the fourth round,” Calhoun recollected. “I was with my parents and my brother and my sister. We were eating lunch and it happened. It was a cool experience. A proud moment for my parents and myself.”
The Dodgers selected Calhoun 132nd overall in that fourth round of the 2015 MLB Draft. He didn’t skip a beat with a strong 2015 half-season campaign, climbing three levels and finishing at High-A. Overall, he flashed some of that exciting power he showed at Yavapai, combining for seven home runs and 13 doubles in just 285 combined at bats.
He may look like Jose Altuve in stature, but when you compare his power to that of a Giancarlo Stanton, he laughs.
“I honestly didn’t think I had that much power,“ Calhoun said. “I had no home runs my freshman year in college. Then I just tried to swing up after that and it worked. At U of A it was the philosophy to hit it hard on the ground, but I changed that to swing up. It was going back to my old stuff, it was just natural.”
Calhoun brings a lot to the offensive side of the plate. While he is fourth overall in Double-A with 22 home runs, unlike other power hitters, he seemingly has the patience of a pure contact hitter. This season, in his Tulsa Drillers debut, he has posted a fantastic 56-to-35 strikeout-to-walk rate, striking out just 13.1 percent of the time. It comes from a patience at the plate, a patience waiting for that one pitch he wants.
“I try to get a fastball,” Calhoun said. “If I get a fastball I swing as hard as I can. I swing as hard as I can in case I hit one, it goes far.”
Calhoun was a Mid-Season All-Star for the second year in a row, this time in the Texas League, and was also invited to the MLB Futures Game, where he was able to showcase his talents amongst the best in the game. He may not have been able to hit a home run on the biggest stage he’s played on yet, but he walked away with invaluable experience.
“It was exciting, I had a good time,” Calhoun said of his trip to San Diego. “To be able to do that is an honor. It wasn’t too overwhelming. It was really cool to be able to do that and play in front of that many people.”
See what else Calhoun has to say by heading on over to Today’s Knuckleball for my full article by clicking on the link below: