On doorstep of starting job, Calhoun won't let up
ARLINGTON -- Rangers outfielder Willie Calhoun’s social life experienced a major upheaval in December. Over a six-day stretch, the Rangers traded fellow outfielders Nomar Mazara to the White Sox and Delino DeShields to the Indians.
“Losing Maz and Delino, they were two of my closest friends on the team,” Calhoun said. “Losing them both was kind of tough. I’ve been traded once, so I know what it means. I know what they are going through. For them to have to start over again stinks.”
Calhoun is being sincere. He and Mazara had their lockers side by side in the Rangers' clubhouse. DeShields was the guy who went out of his way to help Calhoun with his defense.
Calhoun has reason to miss both his buddies. He also knows how those trades will impact him professionally. There is nobody standing in Calhoun’s way toward being the Rangers' Opening Day left fielder.
“That’s the biggest thing,” Calhoun said. “I finally feel they are going to put their trust in me. I have to take advantage of it, keep working and run with it.”
Calhoun earned his way into this position. After being sent to the Minors or injured list five times in the past two years, he was given a chance to play regularly over the final two months of the 2019 season. Over his final 57 games, Calhoun hit .265 with 16 home runs, 35 RBIs, a .328 on-base percentage and a .540 slugging percentage.
“Honestly last year gave me a lot of confidence,” Calhoun said. “I’ve always been confident, but I had never given the everyday opportunity to do what I could do. It made a huge difference knowing that I didn’t have to go out there and get eight hits in four at-bats, which is impossible. Being able to play loose is a lot easier.”
Calhoun has always shown the ability to hit in the Minor Leagues. There are other areas of his game that need to be addressed and are high on his offseason agenda. His outfield defense is a work in progress. Last offseason he worked his way into much better shape physically, and now he needs to use that tip-top conditioning by becoming a baserunning threat.
The Rangers want him to be more than a guy who just swings the bat. They need an all-around player. That’s why he is living in Texas during the offseason while working with hitting coach Luis Ortiz and strength and conditioning coach Jose Vazquez.
“We are expecting a lot clearly,” manager Chris Woodward said. “What he built on last year, he still has a lot higher ceiling, from a defensive standpoint, baserunning standpoint, there is a lot more to him than what he has shown. He wants to be better. He is fully committed. The kid is hungry. He is hungry to win. He wants to be great and that is what we are looking for.”
Calhoun has the inside track in left field, but nothing is a given. The Rangers are not done making moves this winter. Even if they don’t add another left-field candidate from outside, there are viable options on the 40-man roster.
Nick Solak and Scott Heineman could push Calhoun. Shin-Soo Choo can also play left field if the Rangers want to add to their offense by acquiring a big bat at designated hitter.
“This year they have put the ball in my court,” Calhoun said. “It’s whatever I do with it. It all comes down to me. There are no obstacles for me to hurdle this year. You go into every camp with competition no matter what. For me, I am not going to treat this one any different. I want to build off what I did last year throughout a full year.”