ARLINGTON -- Willie Calhoun said he felt a little bit of deja vu when he called his mom on Sunday night. It was similar to a conversation he had with her in 2014, when he transferred from the University of Arizona to Yavapai College after struggling to find his footing in the PAC-12.
He said he feels like his baseball career has been on a repeated cycle, and it’s come around once again.
On Sunday, the Rangers optioned Calhoun to Triple-A Round Rock, sending him to the Minors for the first time since 2019. The outfielder confirmed in a phone interview with MLB.com that he would welcome a trade from the organization if they no longer see him as part of the future.
He told a group that included general manager Chris Young, president of baseball operations Jon Daniels, manager Chris Woodward and bench coach Donnie Ecker as much.
“I respectfully did,” Calhoun said of the trade request. “I just respectfully asked them like, ‘If I’m not part of the future here with this team, is there any way that we can work out a trade or anything?’ I didn't do it in a disrespectful way, but I'm just looking out for myself. I’m 27, it’s not like I’m 22 with all this time to develop anymore.
“I wish it was a little bit different, but this industry is performance based. I understand that. The Rangers have done a lot for me, so I do get it. I 100% get it.”
Acquired from the Dodgers as part of the Yu Darvish trade in 2017, Calhoun made his Major League debut later that summer and entered 2018 as a Top 100 prospect and the Rangers’ No. 2 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.
Calhoun hit 21 homers in just 83 games in 2019 but hasn’t been able to sustain that level of production in the big leagues, recording a .223/.288/.339 slash line with a 75 OPS+ in 404 at-bats since the start of 2020. He’s also missed significant time during that span with multiple injuries.
Calhoun, who is batting .136 with a .556 OPS through 44 at-bats this year, believes that the Rangers are asking him to be more of a power hitter than the line-drive hitter he considers himself to be, and he said the new hitting philosophies don’t mesh well with who he is as a player.
“We want him to hit line drives,” Woodward said prior to Tuesday’s series opener in Philadelphia. “A flat, horizontal path does not allow that to happen consistently. Just look at the best hitters in the game, they all have vertical bat angles and they go through the zone this way, and that's how they hit line drives. I think he needs to take a little bit and figure out his swing, look around the league.
“And this is where him making it public shouldn't happen. Frankly, that's the dialogue that should be happening with our hitting coaches and him and our hitting coaches in the Minor Leagues. I think there's a solution to this, but he's got to be on board to maybe learn a little bit about some things.”
The 5-foot-8, 200-pound Calhoun does have a good approach at the plate and has been a victim of bad luck, according to some metrics this season. His expected batting average (.247) and expected wOBA (.350) are significantly higher than his current numbers in each category. He also has more walks (eight) than strikeouts (six) as well as one of the lowest chase rates in baseball.
Woodward noted after Sunday's game that Calhoun wasn't the only Rangers hitter the staff felt was underperforming, but he was the one with multiple Minor League options remaining.
Calhoun added that he feels like he’s doing all the little things well, but the hits just aren’t falling.
“It's not even that I don't believe in the philosophy, it's just more so that I felt like I was fighting an uphill battle right away,” Calhoun said. “I didn't know my leash was going to be that short. I feel like that's kind of quick to pull the plug on such a short amount of time [44 at-bats]. ... At the end of the day, it’s self-inflicted. I need to perform better. They gave me opportunities to do that. The results just weren't there.”
Calhoun will get consistent at-bats in Round Rock -- much more than he was getting as a platoon outfielder/designated hitter with the big league club -- and hopefully show the Rangers what he’s capable of offensively.
“He's got to go down, he's got to perform to get back here,” Woodward said. “And if he does, then we'll consider it. But until then, he's got to perform.”
If Calhoun hits, he’ll no doubt return to the big leagues, but if that’s with the Rangers or not has yet to be determined.
“I'm not going to go down there with a bad attitude,” Calhoun said. “I'm going to only be very positive about everything I do. I'm going to make sure that I go down there and work my tail off, no matter if I'm in High-A, or Triple-A or the big leagues. I'm going to make sure I get down there and work on the things I have to work on and get back to doing what I know I can do. I know what I'm capable of offensively. I know what's in there. It's just unfortunate that it hasn't really happened with the Rangers.”