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Calhoun looking to cash in on MLB shot

MLB.com

ARLINGTON -- Rangers top prospect Willie Calhoun had to make an adjustment in the midst of a trying season at Triple-A Round Rock.

After being a candidate to make Texas' Opening Day roster, Calhoun got off to a slow start in the Minors. Arguably the lowest point of the season for Calhoun came in a game against Omaha on May 29, when he was benched after failing to run hard on a ground ball in his first at-bat.

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ARLINGTON -- Rangers top prospect Willie Calhoun had to make an adjustment in the midst of a trying season at Triple-A Round Rock.

After being a candidate to make Texas' Opening Day roster, Calhoun got off to a slow start in the Minors. Arguably the lowest point of the season for Calhoun came in a game against Omaha on May 29, when he was benched after failing to run hard on a ground ball in his first at-bat.

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That moment proved to be a wake-up call for the 23-year-old outfielder.

"Yeah, just because I've never had it happen to me before," Calhoun said of the benching. "So, it was brand new for me, and I'd say it motivated me not to do that anymore. So, from there on out, I really busted my tail, and really made sure I gave 100 percent on everything."

Calhoun hit just .270 with four home runs through his first 51 games of the season, but he put together his best stretch of the season one month after the benching. Calhoun hit .425 (31-for-73) with two home runs and 15 RBIs during a career-best 18-game hitting streak. He also hit .351 in his last 41 games with Round Rock.

The turnaround at the plate, combined with Nomar Mazara being placed on the disabled list with a sprained right thumb on Friday, helped Calhoun earn a call-up before the Rangers' series opener against the Indians.

"I just really -- after the first month in Round Rock -- I really had to put together a plan," said Calhoun, who hit .229 in the month of April. "Obviously, they were pitching me a lot differently than they were last year; pitching around me a lot more, but I couldn't miss my pitch, and that was the biggest thing for me. In the first month, I was missing my pitch a lot. But after the first month and a half, I really settled down, and it was good."

Calhoun, Texas' No. 2 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, entered Spring Training as the favorite to win the club's starting left field position, but was sent down early in camp to work on his outfield defense.

Acquired last season in the Trade Deadline deal that sent Yu Darvish to the Dodgers, Calhoun primarily played second base in Los Angeles' system. The Rangers have used him exclusively in left field this season.

Calhoun said he's made major strides on defense, and he thinks it's helped him become a more complete player.

"I feel like that has been my biggest stride," Calhoun said. "Being a better, more mature baseball player all-around. I had some stuff I needed to work on coming into the season, and I knew that. So, just being more mature as a baseball player."

Video: CLE@TEX: Calhoun chops an RBI single to right field

The Rangers are confident Calhoun can hit big league pitching. Calhoun hit .300 with 31 home runs, 93 RBIs and a .927 OPS in the Pacific Coast League last season.

Texas wants to see continued defensive improvement from Calhoun, and manager Jeff Banister said he thinks Calhoun is on the right track.

"All the reports have been he's improved on defense," Banister said on Friday. "He has played steady, routine outfield defense. Willie has earned the right to come up and play. We just feel this is the right time to get an opportunity to play on this team."

Calhoun made his Major League debut last September and was 9-for-34 (.265) with one home run and four RBIs in 13 games.

He plans on making the most of his opportunity the second time around in order to "stick" with the Rangers, as he put it, but he's not looking too far into the future. He just wants to play as hard as he can.

"I try to not look too much into that," Calhoun said. "Just playing the game hard, and wherever it takes me, that's where it takes me. But just trying not to put too much pressure on myself and just go out and play the same game that I've always played."

Wesley Dotson is a reporter for MLB.com based in Arlington.

Texas Rangers, Willie Calhoun