Kole Calhoun Keeps Cruising and Crushing

When Kole Calhoun hit his 12th home run of the year last night in the 66ers' 13-7 victory over the Lancaster JetHawks, he extended his on-base streak to 21 games, and his hit streak to twelve. With a slash line of .423/.515/.635 in June, Kole the Krusher personifies June Gloom itself against opposing Cal League pitchers, and gives hope to a Halosphere haunted by thinning farm depth and front office ineptitude.

On an Inland Empire team with not a lot of bounty –– witness the 30-36 record, the R/G stats that epitomize the third worst offense and pitching in the league, the BatAge and PitchAge marks that betray the oldest average player age of any Cal League team –– Calhoun remains a rare bit of treasure not yet pirated away by the marauding raids of Reagins.

You'll probably remember Calhoun –– if not from his born-to-be-classic sports name then from the little video clip Rev posted of him back in May. Sweet torchheaded kid with an even temperament saying all the right things. He was hitting well in San Bernardino then, and is hitting even better now. But why get too excited about a 23 year old college cleanup hitter in high-A ball with a .963 OPS in a notorious hitters' league?

Well, skepticism noted –– and warranted. But here's why I like him, and think he'll be among our top ten prospects by year's end.

 

One: This guy has a clue at the plate.

He's patient. Like, well, Youkilis-lite patient. In 2010, he led all of the Pac-10 in walks (64 over 61 games). He had 106 BBs against 435 ABs in his ASU career, all while mashing 29 HRs and 112 RBIs in the same span. That's largely continued since he made the jump to pro ball and higher competition last summer. Across 439 ABs at Orem and IE, he's delivered 76 BBs against 87 Ks on first approach. In the month of June, he has 11 walks and zero strikeouts.

At this point, with so many batting-average-driven-phenoms on the Angels farm busting big-time against that Salt Lake ceiling, all that should make you smile. A kid hitting .300 in our system means nothing to me now. But a kid hitting .300 with an OBP one hundred points north of his batting average? That's when I take notice.

 

Two: This guy can hit, and does so in the clutch.

There's a reason why he's hitting cleanup for the 66ers, beyond that solid lefty power bat. He has an OPS of 1.048 with runners on and an OPS of 1.120 with runners in scoring position. 

Now I'm someone who believes that "clutch" is more psychology than skill, and the evidence of clutchness tends to fade away across larger data sets, but there's plenty to suggest that Calhoun digs high leverage situations. In his senior year in college, he led his team with 27 two-out RBIs, he hit .563 in his first go at the College World Series, and he basically put his team on his back in the push to the finals in 2010, hitting longballs in 7 of his final 8 games at home.

 

Then, what are the drawbacks? In a phrase, he's not "toolsy." He's the opposite of the typical Bane-endorsed athletic prepster we tend to see on our farm. He's shorter than you want, stockier than you want, and is probably maxed out physically, with middling speed and defense (though with 17 steals in his first 400+ ABs, he's speedier than you'd imagine for his build, though his baserunning is still a work in progress). I think this assessment by John Klima is as fair as you'll get:

 

His future will be simple: he’s going to have to hit so much that he makes it harder for decision makers who are going to want to bury him because of his otherwise below-average tools. It’s all about left-handed bat speed and raw power. He’s not going to be off the charts in terms of raw, but his hands will get inside good velocity, and he’s got enough power projection to be dangerous. But he’s got to be consistent right away, because guys like this never get a lot of slack in the minor leagues.

Bat speed and power are what is going to give him the best chance to claw his way to the top, I would bet, as an extra man and a left-handed bat off the bench. This guy could totally hit enough to make me shove the grades up my you-know-what, but here’s how scouts will see him. He lacks a secondary tool. But you better be careful to bury him completely because the bat might come back to bite you.

 

Elsewhere, Klima said: "He’s going to be an American League type of player and he’ll have to rake to make his mark. I wouldn’t expect his pro path to be any different than his amateur path. He probably won’t be a star, but he’ll probably find a way to hit his way into steady work."

 

That was in June of last year –– and so far, he has not stumbled. If he continues on this trajectory, there is reason to think this guy will stick in the Majors, as a regular glue guy or useful bench player. Medium-low estimates? Left-handed Robb Quinlan, with more patience and power. Higher estimate? Sure, Matt Stairs, ok. Or how about Nick Swisher, with better batting average? Ok, this is a bit of a guess, but like Swisher, he's shorter than most corner IF/OF types (5'11"), but built thick, with more mobility than you might expect, but no defensive marvel.

I'd like to see Calhoun promoted to Arkansas at the All Star Break. There, he'd be age-appropriate and on a good track for a spring training showcase in 2012, perhaps joining the team in 2013 when Hunter and Abreu are off the roster. This assumes many, many things, and Calhoun could flame out well before then. But there are a few Travs ready for promotion at the moment, and it'd be good to see collegiate players like Calhoun, Haerther, and Matt Long get their chance against better pitching in the upper minors.

 

More goodies:

 

  • Some scouting video of Calhoun, including references to "lumberjack" and "Babe Ruth".
  • An ESPN feature from Calhoun's superregional run.

 

What do y'all think? Outside of Arkansas and the Dominican, most of our farm teams are in rough shape. Is Calhoun one to keep an eye on, or just another feisty scrub without a prayer?

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