With September call-ups around the corner, fans of every franchise are glancing at their teams’ minor league systems. Fortunately for the Dodgers, the organization has one of the best in baseball and plenty of options from which to choose (though the injuries on the 40-man make it more complex).
Pitcher Jose De Leon has generated a lot of intrigue, largely because he’s due for a promotion. As the injury bug continues to bite L.A. pitchers, the team has stood strong on its stance of leaving De Leon in Triple-A. It appears his debut is near, however, which leads us to investigate the next wave of talent.
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If you’ve read some of my previous pieces, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of first baseman Cody Bellinger (see: here and here). But Bellinger isn’t the only exciting bat expected to play an important role in the Dodgers’ future. Let’s talk about Willie Calhoun.
On Sunday, Calhoun hammered two home runs in an 11-3 win for Double-A Tulsa. That gives the second baseman 25 dingers on the year, with three two-homer performances as a feather in his cap. He leads the Drillers in homers (Bellinger is second with 17) and RBI (79; Alex Verdugo ranks a distant second with 56). Calhoun also leads the team in runs scored (67), hits (112), doubles (23), at-bats (423), total bases (212) and games played (112). Calhoun has a shot at breaking the team record for home runs, currently held by Tim Wheeler for a 33-homer season in 2011.
That’s earned him a spot as the Dodgers’ fourth ranked prospect, and a national ranking of No. 99, per MLB.com. So the production is expected, but the power surge is what impresses most. Calhoun is fourth in Double-A in homers and eighth in slugging. The 21-year-old is listed as 5’8” 187 lbs. There are plenty of successful small players, but few have demonstrated the power potential Calhoun has at this stage. He set records in college after a 31 homer campaign, so perhaps he’s picking up where he left off. He hit 11 home runs in the Dodgers system before exploding recently.
Calhoun’s shortcoming is his defense, which isn’t terrible, but a shortcoming nonetheless. He is a below average defender at second with a .953 fielding percentage with the Drillers this season. To put this into perspective, Chase Utley has a .991 fielding percentage this year for the Dodgers at second.
Some scouts have suggested a position switch, but for now it appears Los Angeles plans to keep him where he is. Calhoun has the potential to be one of the best hitting at his position, so the team will likely live with him being a defensive liability. He is nimble and athletic enough to improve at the position, but as he puts on more weight, keeping that may be challenging. Either way, his bat has him destined for Chavez Ravine.
Rumors will swirl in the offseason about the possible major acquisition(s) the Dodgers make, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to include Calhoun in those talks. The No. 99 listing is starting to look low. Calhoun is ascending through the system quick enough that it’s becoming a reality to possibly see him in Dodger blue next year.
Playing in his favor, as opposed to Bellinger’s situation, is how the cards are stacked at his position in Los Angeles. Chase Utley is a soon-to-be free agent with an uncertain future. Howie Kendrick is in a “down” season and has been spending time in left field. If Justin Turner is re-signed, he’s likely staying put at third.
What that means is second base is open. Expect the team to try to add or extend a stop-gap option until Calhoun is ready. He’s another piece of the Dodgers’ youth movement that will allow for heavy spending in 2018 free agency (which many believe is a “target” year for the franchise). Similar to the model implemented by a certain team in the Bay Area, Los Angeles is on its way to a mostly homegrown infield. Excluding third base, Bellinger, Calhoun and Corey Seager look like the future. And again, having them all under control during the upcoming historic free agency periods is of the utmost importance.
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It’s a matter of when, not if, with Calhoun’s call-up; but the when might be sooner than initially anticipated. He’s looking like a true fourth round steal. The Los Angeles sports scene doesn’t have a shortage of young stars – Seager, Julio Urias, Brandon Ingram, D’Angelo Russell, Todd Gurley, Aaron Donald – maybe Calhoun will be part of the next group of players who capture the hearts of Hollywood.
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