Kole Calhoun was the 264th overall player taken in the 2010 draft. Based on actual major league performance, it’s clear now he was worthy of being a top-20 pick.
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The Angels recognized and rewarded Calhoun for that on Wednesday, signing him to a three-year, $26 million extension with a 2020 club option for $14 million.
It marked a satisfying moment for a player whose talents were largely underappreciated as an amateur and minor leaguer, largely because of his stocky 5-foot-10, 205-pound frame.
“I think it’s kind of the doubts that kind of kept me going,” Calhoun said on a conference call with reporters. “I was always kind of under the radar on everybody’s scale I guess you can say, but never under the radar on my own. It was something I kind of used as that burning desire, that fuel to keep going and keep getting better and continue to work year after year.”
Calhoun is an interesting test case for players whose skills are overlooked for fear of a particular profile. Though he hit .317 with 29 homers, 112 RBI and a 1.059 OPS in two years playing at an elite college program in Arizona State, while making multiple highlight-reel catches in the outfield, he still was not drafted until after his senior year and fell to the eighth round.
His offensive performance—which included a 9-for-16 showing with three home runs at Rosenblatt Stadium in the 2009 College World Series—and demonstrated defensive excellence were inarguable. Still, frame was mentioned as a reason to question his future impact in most pre-draft and minor league scouting reports, including downplaying his tools and skills significantly simply because he didn’t look a certain part.
BA did list Calhoun as its preseason all-Pac-12 first baseman in 2010.
Clearly, talent won out. Since the start of the 2013 season, Calhoun is one of only two American League right fielders with at least 50 home runs, 275 RBIs and 200 runs scored. (The other is Jose Bautista). He’s done that despite not even playing most of the 2013 season in the majors, joining the Angels as a callup on July 28.
He has a career 114 OPS-plus, won a Gold Glove in 2015 after leading AL right fielders in defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating, and just saw an across-the-board improvement in all three offensive slash line categories last season.
“His defense, his baserunning, coupled with what he does in the batters box, makes him a complete player,” Angels general manager Billy Eppler said, “and one we’re comfortable we’re investing in.”
By no means is every stocky player who produced in college bound to be a success. Calhoun is a good reminder, however, that discounting a player’s demonstrated abilities simply because of a frame can cost teams the chance to draft future valuable big leaguers.
“Just taking step in beside myself and looking how this thing has gone, it’s pretty remarkable to me and I assume it is to some other people as well,” Calhoun said. “It was always my plan, maybe not everybody else’s, but I always believed something was possible.”