Texas Rangers

Miffed by perception, Willie Calhoun aims to tear off this label in 2018

Willie Calhoun doesn't like being called a poor defensive player.  "I want to be a better player because I'm tired of people always bashing me about my defense when haven't even seen me. They just automatically assume," Calhoun said Thursday.
Willie Calhoun doesn't like being called a poor defensive player. "I want to be a better player because I'm tired of people always bashing me about my defense when haven't even seen me. They just automatically assume," Calhoun said Thursday. pmoseley@star-telegram.com

The thing about labels is how sticky they can be.

Granted, they're supposed to be, but some hold on tighter than others and no matter how thoroughly someone tries to remove one in its entirety, it always seems like remnants of it are going to be permanent.

Thanks to Twitter, another kind of label might never go away.

Most of those labels are in the form of opinions, and many of those who opine are considered legitimate sources. Through retweets and embeds and screenshots, opinions become gospel.

Just ask Willie Calhoun, the hot-hitting prospect who is aiming to be the Texas Rangers' starting left fielder. As highly regarded as his bat is, his defense is thought to be in the range of Mike Napoli (remember that?) to Manny Ramirez's laughable glove work.

Calhoun isn't laughing. The no-defense label is serving to motivate him this spring.

"I want to be a better player because I'm tired of people always bashing me about my defense when haven't even seen me. They just automatically assume," Calhoun said Thursday. "I feel I've played perfectly fine in left field when I was there. I'm trying to get that label off me. It drives me every single day."

His defense hasn't been perfect, but it's been better than expected. The Rangers, though, had questions about it when they acquired him as the centerpiece to the Yu Darvish trade and were pleasantly surprised to see that he could hold his own in left field.

He isn't just a designated hitter, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said after Calhoun's MLB debut and brief September showcase in September.

And it's not like Calhoun has been playing left field his entire career. He was a second baseman until the trade, so he has about two months' worth of experience in the outfield grass.

Yes, he needs work and has been working at the Surprise Recreation Campus since mid-January. His pre-camp focus was divided between defense and conditioning. They go hand in hand for a rookie trying to add quickness to his defense and attempting to survive a 162-game schedule.

Calhoun said that he lost eight pounds over the offseason after transforming his diet, thanks to his girlfriend's cooking, and he feels as if he is quicker.

On the field, he spent time learning left field with minor-league outfield coordinator Dwayne Murphy. All Murphy did in his career was win six consecutive Gold Gloves from 1980-85 with the Oakland A's.

Calhoun has worked on his first step, going back on balls, seeing the ball off the bat ... you name it.

Calhoun has also leaned on Delino DeShields, who knows a thing or two about transitioning from second base to the outfield and then having his defense questioned.

Calhoun considers DeShields like a big brother, as he is also providing guidance off the field (never be late, for instance).

DeShields is seeing Calhoun improve but acknowledges there's much more to do. A daily emphasis is reminding Calhoun to not forget about the No. 1 label stuck to DeShields, his throwing.

"You can tell he's getting a lot more comfortable," DeShields said. "I stay on him about getting in his throwing position. The biggest thing is throwing. I stay on him about using his legs. Even when we're long-tossing, just keep the ball down and low."

Calhoun won't be a liability, DeShields said, and the center fielder will try to use his speed and improving defensive skills to cover Calhoun's shortcomings.

But Calhoun is out to prove that his shortcomings aren't as numerous and run-inducing as his no-defense label assumes. He's busy trying to tear off that label.

"I was a bad defender in the infield, but I feel that in the outfield I've done everything I can do," Calhoun said.

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