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Kole Calhoun Gains A Following: Top Angels Prospect Performances of 2011

3) Kole Calhoun, 10/14/1987 -- Of/1B, High A

.324/.410/.547 with 23 HR and 20 SB. +33 runs bat, -3 glove, 4.0 WAR

Some interesting tidbits regarding Calhoun:

  • Calhoun had the best offensive season in the minors of any Angels' COLLEGE draftee in five years. You have to go back to Chris Pettit's 2007 campaign to find anything comparable.
  • Calhoun is the Halos' first 20-20 farmhand since Terry Evans' AAA campaign back in 2009.
  • Calhoun's left-handed cut in instructional league last year was a mirror image of Mike Napoli's much-missed stroke. Seriously. Go to the FutureAngels.Com video gallery, and watch their respective clips side by side. Uncanny.

So what do these factoids tell us?

  1. The Angels don't like to draft college position players.
  2. Calhoun does have some tools, especially power, to augment his strong command of the strikezone.
  3. In terms of production, Calhoun's age 23 Cal League campaign is a dead-ringer for Napoli's age 22 Cal League campaign, so the similarities don't end with swing mechanics. But let's not make that comp for real quite yet; just because Calhoun channels Napoli's mechanics doesn't mean he has the big guy's strength, timing, or mojo.

Calhoun was a beast in 2011. At age 23, he would have been old even for a college guy in the Midwest League, so the Halos jumped him to High A, where he very quickly established himself as the 66'ers best hitter. He showed all of the skills that a bat-first college draftee needs to show, maintaining control of the strikezone (73 BB/99 K) and hitting for solid power (.228 iso). All of the offensive stats looked good: he ranked 6th in the league for doubles, HR's and walks; 4th in both OBP and slugging; and 3rd in total bases and OPS. I don't see the 23 HR's as a Cal League fluke, and believe he will repeat or improve upon that number as he moves up in the system. While he won't steal 20 bags again, pitchers aren't going to forget about him either. Plus, he showed enough range and instincts in the outfield for the Angels' to plug him into centerfield after Matt Long's promotion to AA in the final month of the season. He wasn't Jim Edmonds out there, certainly, but that's just one more example of Calhoun contributing above his modest tools.

The Halos drafted Calhoun as a senior out of Arizona State University in 2010 in eighth round, which was unusually high for a guy of his age. The writers at Baseball Beginnings had a real love affair with him when he was at ASU: although they graded out his speed, defense and arm as well below-average tools, they touted his bat speed, baseball smarts, grinder attitude and the fact that he was the only guy in a talented ASU lineup to put good swings on much-hyped Pirates' prospect Gerrit Coles' superlative fastball. They used Matt Stairs as a comp for his skill set, and I think Calhoun lived up to that in his full season debut. The Angels' obviously thought he would compliment the legion of raw young high school guys they drafted that year.

At some point in 2011, Calhoun tweaked his swing mechanics, eliminating his previous high leg kick and aggressive stride, and replacing it with a wider set-up and toned-down toe tap. Otherwise, he still looks similar to Napoli, with a low center of gravity and a big, sweeping cut. He has plenty of bat speed. His swing maintains an even plane through the zone, the bat remains in the zone for a long time, and there are no obvious holes. He finishes with plenty of loft in his follow through. Calhoun's batted ball distribution is well-rounded compared to, say Matt Long's, with more linedrives and hard groundballs, and fewer pop-ups. He's also much better than Long when going to the opposite field, batting .312 on balls in play with 17 extra base hits to the left side. That last point is especially important, because it highlights Calhoun's ability to make adjustments since his college days, when he was known exclusively as a pull hitter. I think he'll continue to hit for average as he moves up the system.

Calhoun hasn't put up a great slash line this winter in Venezuela, but he has won over some dedicated Navegantes del Magallanes fans, who love him for his... defense? Check out the video for some highlights: