His chances at the Opening Day roster were dashed early in spring training, when the Texas Rangers lumped him into the first round of cuts typically reserved for players without the same pedigree.
And, then, he went through a lousy April. At one point at Triple A Round Rock, he was benched for not running out a ground ball.
His work ethic was questioned. He defense was panned. His power suffered an outage.
Now, he’s not getting regular September at-bats in the Rangers’ crowd of outfielders.
That all sounds like Willie Calhoun has had a really bad season, or, at the very least, a lost season after being the centerpiece of the Yu Darvish trade in 2017.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a bad year,” Calhoun said.
Bad experiences? Sure. Unmet expectations? You bet. But all that Calhoun has experienced has done one key thing for the 23-year-old — made him better equipped for when it his time to be a full-time major-leaguer.
“I feel that I am,” Calhoun said Sunday morning before making his first start as a September call-up.
“Maturing is something that happened a lot for me this year. Just growing up and learning to be a professional. Just going in every day with a plan and a routine and sticking to that plan no matter if you’re doing good or bad. Just don’t ride the roller-coaster. Remain level-minded the whole time.”
He went 0 for 3 with a walk as the Oakland Athletics completed a three-game sweep with a 7-3 victory. He also slipped and fell in left field, leading to a two-out error in the second inning.
Even the best players haven’t had a smooth transition from the minor leagues to the majors. Mickey Mantle was went down his rookie season. So was Mike Trout.
Each bump, each experience, is part of the development that takes place. They are a big reason why Calhoun’s season hasn’t been a bust.
“All experiences are good experiences, whether they’re challenge experiences or good experiences,” manager Jeff Banister said. “In this sport, I go back to how you respond to each individual one, what you learn from it and what you’re able to put into play based on certain situations. This is a tough place to play, so you’re going to go through some moments.”
And while Calhoun’s power is down significantly from past seasons — he hit only nine home runs this season at Triple A as opposed to 27 in 2017 — he has amassed 37 doubles between Triple A and his one-month stay with the Rangers to open the second half and is batting .290.
He is also better in left field. His start Sunday was No. 121 this season, and players get better the more they play.
Calhoun also learned that he shouldn’t worry about things he can’t control, like getting sent down in the first wave of spring cuts. He is one of four left-handed-hitting corner outfielders on the Rangers’ roster and could find himself at Triple A again next year if the logjam isn’t corrected this off-season.
“I have no control of that,” he said. “Everyone wants to be here. I can just work hard and work as hard as I can every day and come to the field ready to play every day and let the rest take care of itself.”
That sounds like a player who didn’t have a bad or lost season.
“Every player goes through challenges,” Banister said. “They can all be positives if they continue to learn and they take that as motivation to go learn and improve their skill set. You really learn here how you have to play this game, what you need to improve upon and how you need to play. These guys need the minor-league development.”