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Glendale notes: Dodgers' Calhoun blasts off

Infield prospect makes sure to have fun, swing hard in first full season
November 1, 2016

On paper, Willie Calhoun is a 5-foot-8 second baseman with average power. But with a swing of his bat, he can tear that paper to shreds.

"It's something I don't try to think about," Dodgers' No. 4 prospect said of the scouting reports and set expectations. "I just try to go up there and get a good pitch to hit."

Calhoun got plenty of those this season as he slugged his way through his first full professional season.

Los Angeles selected Calhoun in the fourth round of the 2015 Draft and so began a year of movement. The 21-year-old left Rookie-level Ogden after 38 games to go to Class A Great Lakes for 15 contests before finishing the year with Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga. Even with all those changes, Calhoun delivered a .316 average with 11 homers and 48 RBIs in 73 games.

This season, Calhoun got a chance to settle in at Double-A, spending the entire regular season at Tulsa.'s No. 87 overall prospect ranked second in the system with 27 homers while tying Matt Beaty for the organization lead with 88 RBIs.

"This year was a lot of fun for me, being able to prove to the Dodgers that I'm able to do anything they throw at me," Calhoun said. "I like to compete and give it my all every day, so them moving me fast is really fun for me and rewarding and also shows that they trust me. I was just able to prove to them why they should."

That wasn't his first power display. After spending a year at the University of Arizona, the California native transferred to Yavapai College for a year. In 2015, Calhoun led the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference with 31 home runs -- breaking a school record -- and 85 RBIs en route to being named the league's Player of the Year.

"At U of A, I just wasn't able to adapt to that style of play, but at JC, our head coach, [Ryan Cougill] told me to just go out there and have fun. And that took a lot of pressure off me," he remembered. "That's something I keep with me now, I just tell myself to go out there and have fun. It's just a game. And always treat the game as you did when I was younger as a kid."

To that end, Calhoun cultivated a certain mantra with teammates that proved key in his powerful year.

"It's just an inside joke with me and some of the guys, 'Swing hard, just in case you hit it.' It's something we like to joke around about. I just swing as hard as I can and put good contact on the ball," he said. "It's something that's really helped me in the box."

Over two seasons in the Minors, Calhoun has gotten close with Cody Bellinger and Alex Verdugo -- the Dodgers' No. 1 and No. 3 prospects respectively -- as they ascend the system together. After playing in the Texas League this season, the three are roommates in the Arizona Fall League.

"I've really bonded with Verdugo and Belly a lot, those are my best friends," Calhoun said. "We're really close with each other, do everything together and having those two guys there with me is very fun. The chemistry we have is really good."

One of Calhoun's former roommates, Andrew Toles, made it to the Majors this season. The second baseman was excited to see the Dodgers' No. 28 prospect get rewarded with the callup. It also made him ponder his own future.

"It really just puts it in perspective that we're that close to being right there with him," Calhoun said. "Hopefully we'll be with him next year [in Los Angeles] and hopefully we'll still be playing at this time next year."

With three of the Dodgers' top four prospects cruising up the ladder and facing some the best pitching prospects in the AFL, the future is looking bright for the National League West Division champions.

"It's very exciting, we're obviously excited because we're young. We're still getting there and hoping we'll bring wins to the big league team in the future," Calhoun said. "We're just working our butts off down here in the Minor Leagues and in the Fall League right now just to get better every day so that we'll be ready to help the big league team win."

In brief

Ball meets Ward: Drew Ward is getting his hits early and often in his second consecutive trip to the Fall League. The Nationals' No. 10 prospect ranks among the top batters on the circuit with hits in each of his first 11 games. As of the end of play Saturday, the 21-year-old was rocking a .381 /.447/.429 slash line for the Desert Dogs.

Austins overpower: The top two performers in the Glendale rotation don't just share a name, but a propensity to strike hitters out. Austin Gomber and Austin Voth top the squad with 19 and 15 punchouts respectively through four starts apiece. Gomber, the Cardinals' No. 19 prospect sports a 2.12 ERA as the ace of the staff. While the Nationals' No. 9 prospect's currently stands at 10.43, Voth's stats should adjust with additional innings.

Kelsie Heneghan is a contributor to Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan.