On the final day of 2022, the Yankees signed Willie Calhoun with an invite to spring training. The left-handed hitting outfielder was once a highly touted prospect in the Dodgers system, and will now be entering his age-28 season in 2023. For the most part, Calhoun has not delivered on his promise as a prospect in the major leagues. This is a very low level signing for the Yankees, and expectations should reflect that, but he has a mix of skills and that helps make him an interesting addition to the organization’s depth, if nothing else.
The last time Calhoun was on a prospect list, in 2018, he was a top-100 guy, with some legit tools at the plate to back it up. This includes a 65 raw power grade. He made his debut with a cup of coffee in the 2017 season, and has made appearances in the bigs in every year since, though never playing much more than half of a season.
Although things have not worked out very well for Calhoun in Texas (or his brief stint with the Giants last year), his standing as a prospect was not unwarranted. Prior to his arrival, he tore up his various stops in the Dodgers system, hitting for good power and getting on base at solid clips. He has been able to do much of the same in his returns to the minors since then as he’s largely floated as a quad-A type. This success is understandably overshadowed by his lack of production in the show, but it’s better than having nothing on the resume.
There is also his 2019 season, his shining accomplishment to this point, if you can call a good half-season that. It was nothing earth-shattering, but he was a good major league hitter for a solid stretch. Most notably, he hit an impressive 21 homers in just 83 games, en route to slugging well over .500. All together, he put up a 110 wRC+ in a hitter-friendly ballpark in Texas over 337 plate appearances. It was his only major league season with above-average production, but was also his biggest sample in the league as well.
As mentioned, his tools at the plate were very well regarded coming up through the minor leagues. Some of those, skills can be seen if you squint hard enough.
For starters, Calhoun doesn’t strike out very often, as his 15.3 percent clip was over seven percentage points lower than the league average last season. But his most intriguing skill is his power, which is for real. He had those 21 homers in a half-season, but he has some good peripherals throughout his career to go with it. In every season except for one, his average exit velocity has been above league average, and his max exit velocity has been well above average every year outside of his rough 29-game 2020 campaign. He can get into one from time to time.
He also does so with a bias toward right field, something that is known to play well in the Bronx.
There are plenty of guys who can be cited as breaking out of that quad-A status and helping contribute to a team for a period. Calhoun is very unlikely to do so out of spring by making the team outright. But, I can imagine a situation where he’s brought up in a pinch and turns in a surprisingly solid stretch. We’ve seen unexpected names stand up in tight positions plenty in recent years.
He’s a talented guy, who has just never quite panned out in the big leagues, but who’s also still just 28. He may end up being a total non-factor in 2023, but he has some interesting skills, and I can think of worse guys to add to a system as break-in-case-of-emergency depth.