The Cactus League schedule shows the Texas Rangers playing one final game March 24 at Surprise Stadium, and to those who closely follow top prospects, the game will be a must-see.
Minor-leaguers will be filling the lineup card that day while the Rangers’ big-leaguers and the players who will make up their Triple A team visit Nashville for a game that will christen a new player development agreement.
Willie Calhoun will be on the flight to the Music City, but a week before the scheduled departure, the outfielder isn’t sure whether he will be playing for the Rangers or the Nashville Sounds.
He knows he doesn’t want to go to Triple A again for what would be a third season knocking on the MLB door. He knows he can play effectively in the major leagues, especially after reshaping his body in the off-season.
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Calhoun also knows that he could very well end up in the minors to start the season. That will be a difficult decision for him to take.
“It would be really frustrating,” Calhoun said. “I don’t know how I would react if I were to get sent down because I feel like I’ve done everything asked of me. It would be hard. I have so many games played at Triple A. I feel like I’d go there just to get at-bats, but at that point, there’s no getting better for me at Triple A.”
He backtracked a bit, saying there are always things to improve, but he’s not entirely wrong. If he’s going to make the next step to being a full-time big-league left fielder, he needs to learn in the majors.
But the Rangers are continuing to evaluate how they will compose their Opening Day roster. If they decide they need eight relievers, Calhoun won’t make the team. If they don’t want third baseman Asdrubal Cabrera to also serve as the backup shortstop and second baseman, Calhoun won’t make the team.
“The toughest decisions are coming up,” manager Chris Woodward said. “There’s a lot to evaluate the last week.”
Outfielders Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara and Delino DeShields will make the team. Hunter Pence has more than shown that he belongs at Globe Life Park on March 28 against the Chicago Cubs as an extra outfielder, and designated hitter Shin-Soo Choo is going to be the primary leadoff hitter.
A sixth player in that outfield/DH group doesn’t seem likely. An injury might be the only way Calhoun makes the team, but he can still make it with only a week of spring games to go.
“Absolutely,” Woodward said. “If everyone stays healthy, it’s going to be a tough decision.”
Calhoun is still only 24 and is still thought to be a big part of the future. As such, the Rangers might not want him sitting on the bench, say, five games a week when he could be collecting regular at-bats and outfield reps in Nashville.
He is pleased with his spring, even though his numbers at the plate have been fairly pedestrian. His at-bats, though, have been better as he works on getting deeper into counts, and his defense has been visibly improved thanks to the weight he lost and has kept off this spring.
“I feel like I’ve done everything I could,” said Calhoun, who entered Saturday batting only .216 (8 for 37) and without a home run. “Obviously, the results aren’t there, but the quality of my at-bats have been there. I’ve been seeing the ball really well, and I’m taking more walks that normal.”
He’s working on the things he needs to be successful during the season, and the Rangers are pleased with his spring.
But they also know that Calhoun could be Nashville-bound.
“He’s done above and beyond what we’ve asked of him,” Woodward said. “He should be very proud of himself. It will be crushing for me if I have to tell him no.”
He very well might have to, though.