At just 5’10” tall, Los Angeles Angels outfielder Kole Calhoun has had to overcome misconceptions about his size ever since he was drafted in the 8th round of the 2010 MLB Draft out of Arizona State University. However, he’s let his bat do the talking for him and used it to quickly rise through the minor league ranks and into the Angels outfield.
After hitting at every level along the way, Calhoun received his first taste of the big leagues with a 21-game cup of coffee in 2012. The results were less than encouraging, as the then 24-year-old slashed just .174/.240/.217 in 25 plate appearances.
However, the Angels gave him another shot in 2013, after Calhoun torched the Pacific Coast league by hitting .354/.413/.617 with 12 home runs and 49 RBI in 59 games with Triple-A Salt Lake. This time he responded much better, using an everyday role to hit .282/.347/.462 with 8 home runs and 32 RBI with the Angels last season.
That performance lead to some high expectations for the 2014 season.
Calhoun’s performance from the prior season lead the Angels to experiment a bit with their line-up, sliding former lead-off hitter Mike Trout into the two hole, where he could be a bigger run producer. That meant slotting Calhoun into the lead-off role for most of the season.
Calhoun responded well with a .281/.336/.471 slash-line. Additionally, having Trout behind him in the order saw Kole launch 17 home runs and drive in 58 runs with the better pitch selection, chipping in 9 runs scored for good measure. That placed him behind only Trout on the team and his .776 OPS was good for third on the team behind Trout and Albert Pujols.
All and all, Calhoun was a 3.6 win player in 2014, which was quite encouraging.
Unfortunately, even the best laid plans are sometimes ill-fated. Calhoun missed a good chunk of time from April 15th through May 21st with a ligament strain in his ankle, and his loss was evident as the Angels struggled during the early months of the season.
Additionally, despite Calhoun’s spot at the top of the order, he doesn’t bring a lot of stolen bases to the table. Since he stole 20 bases with Inland Empire (High-A) in 2010, Calhoun has watched his theft rate drop almost yearly. That may be by design in Los Angeles, with the Angels not wanting to take pitches away from Mike Trout and it could also be a product of the ankle injury, but it bears watching in future years.
Another interesting thing to keep an eye on is the drop in plate discipline. After posting a 21/41 walk to strike-out ratio in 2013, Calhoun fell off to 38/104 in 2014. That’s a fairly steep decline, but given that he’s been solid throughout his minor league track record, we’re going to categorize this as growing pains for now.
The Angels line-up is built to score runs, so having a set spot at the top of the line-up is a good situation to be in. That puts Kole Calhoun into perennial 100-runs scored territory on a yearly basis, as long as he stays healthy. It also doesn’t hurt that as he comes into his prime he could be in for some 25 home run seasons as well.
That all said, Calhoun is a bit older than you like your young stars to be when they get their first kicks and he doesn’t profile as a prototypical corner outfielder. However, he’s shown resilience to exceed expectations, and as a lead-off man he presents some solid upside.
There are other teams in the league that would love to have a Kole Calhoun at the top of their line-ups.