2016 MLB Preseason Primaries: Kole Calhoun

For some, 2016 Spring Training marks the start of a brand new Major League Baseball season. For others, this time of year marks the height of the presidential primary elections. While many pontificate over who is best suited to lead the country, The Sports Fan Journal fam decided to take a look at which player, manager, or front office member is the best candidate to lead their team to the top of the baseball mountain. 

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Given that he’s on pace to be the best player ever, it’s hard to fathom that anyone besides Mike Trout matters to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Kole Calhoun, however, holds a huge responsibility in helping the Angels get back to October.

Despite not entering professional baseball until he was 23 and not becoming a full-time Major Leaguer until he was 26, Calhoun has become a vital part of Anaheim’s success.

Calhoun, once a non-prospect in the Angels organization was very good in 2014 as he slashed .272/.325/.450 with 17 home runs in his first full Major League season. In 2015, he continued to establish himself has a power threat with 26 home runs, but saw his average, on-base and slugging percentage all fall to .256, .308 and .422 respectively.

Even with the dip in production at the plate, Calhoun provided unforeseen value thanks to his superb defense in right field. In 1383 innings, he tallied 6 defensive runs saved and a zone rating of 13.8. These numbers were enough to earn him a Gold Glove award.

So where does Calhoun go from here? The Angels are ready for him to fully break out, and perhaps even that is an understatement. The Angels are in a position where they NEED Calhoun to break out, as they have put themselves in a position where his production is no longer a bonus, but a must. With chances to sign several high-profile corner outfielders in the offseason, the Angels stood pat. Calhoun’s back-to-back seasons of nearly 4 wins above replacement had a lot to do with that, and while it may have been an unforeseen element two years ago, now even more is needed from him.

But how exactly is this possible? After all, producing in the range of four Wins individually is pretty hefty lifting. But considering the fact that he has proven that he can be a more well-rounded performer at the plate already in his career, it is reasonable to hope that Calhoun can continue to develop as he enters is prime seasons. Where he can most improve and provide the greatest impact is increasing his on-base somewhere near the rate he did in the minors. In his three years in the minors, Calhoun regularly posted averages over .290 and on-base percentages close to or over .400. The power numbers he displayed in the minors have translated - as he had seasons of 25 and 17 home runs respectively as he rose through the Angels organization - but his knack for getting on base with regularity has not come as easily in the Majors.

Calhoun the power hitter swung and missed nearly 13 percent of the time last year, way up from 9.2 percent in 2014. He also made contact at a 74 percent rate, well below the 80 percent he posted the previous season. Every player has a niche with a team. Calhoun’s is currently that of a power guy hitting at or near the top of the Angels’ lineup. The problem with that is that it’s not going to help Anaheim win games.

A winning Angels club is one that has Calhoun getting on base at something more than a .308 clip. The lefty can take the Angels to a new level offensively by shortening up his swing and letting other guys down the order provide the power.

Calhoun is not likely going to be a perennial all-star, and that is okay because he doesn’t need to be. For starters, there is no shortage of talent in American League outfields. If the Angels wanted to add that type of player, they would have bid for one this winter. However, that doesn’t take away from how imperative the right fielder is to the success of these Angels. He is a superb defender, that is already producing at an above average clip in one area, and still has the potential to improve in multiple other ones.

It is that promise that best characterizes Calhoun, as well as the role that he inhabits. He carries the gargantuan responsibility hitting in front of Mike Trout. He’s going to get a ton of great pitches, and it’s up to him to take advantage of that. As Calhoun shortens his swing and goes gap-to-gap more, he will strike out less and get on base more often. If he can accomplish this while not sacrificing the needed power he brings, the Angels’ offense will take off.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will need a bevy of things to go their way this year, but Kole Calhoun finding his niche is a large piece of what can get them to the postseason in 2016.

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