Spring training is in full swing and this year, like most years, it’s really all about filling two or three open positions.
The fourth outfielder will be the most fun to watch. It should come down to a competition between Hunter Pence and Willie Calhoun.
Pence’s production has been in slow decline since his glory years with the Phillies and Giants, finishing in the top twenty in MVP voting four times. As recently as 2013, he drove in 99 runs. Last season, in an injury-marred year, he drove in 24. His OPS was, buy far, the lowest of his career, too.
But Pence has a few things going for him. One, he is really hard not to root for. He always came across as an awkward, unathletic guy who won a contest and was allowed to play in a major league game. He runs unconventionally, throws odd, his swing looks like he just learned the game yesterday. But his results were amazing. Plus, Pence emits a natural love for the game that’s infectious.
Willie Calhoun has a lot to prove. He’s only 23, so it’s too early to say he is running out of chances. But he needs to start hitting at the major league level. The highlight in the Yu Darvish trade to the Dodgers, the maturation of Willie Calhoun needs to happen for himself as much as for the front office. They could use a successful trade.
In four minor league seasons in both the Dodgers’ and Rangers’ organizations, Calhoun has posted a decent .846 OPS, and the ability to make contact, striking out once every 8.9 plate appearances. In parts of two seasons with the Rangers, his OPS is a disappointing .621 while his strikeout rate doubled to once every 4.7 plate appearances.
A few things working in Calhoun’s favor this spring are the fact that he was told to get in shape and he did, dropping more than twenty pounds, and the fact that he came up through the Dodgers organization with a good degree of success and new manager Chris Woodward was there to see it. Calhoun has had bouts of immaturity the past two seasons, showing his displeasure for not being on the major league roster with pouts and whining and not hustling. Woodward noted that Calhoun seems totally committed to baseball right now.
There are no guarantees, of course, that either makes the team. And, who knows, the Rangers might go out and sign Adam Jones if his market value gets more attractive.
But spring training offers so little excitement other than the hope of a new season. So, this Pence vs Calhoun showdown is at least something worth paying attention to.