It's rare to see a player who wins two batting titles and is a five-time Minor League All-Star by the age of 24 traded twice before getting a shot at a Major League job. In the case of Alberto Callaspo, that's exactly what happened.
Callaspo was signed by the then-Anaheim Angels as a free agent out of Venezuela in 2001. After making his debut in the Dominican Summer League that same year, Callaspo started 2002 with the Rookie level Provo Angels of the Pioneer League, where he met manager Tom Kotchman.
"There was nothing to work on with him," Kotchman, who has been with the Angels organization for more than two decades, said. "He was just very, very talented. He was very advanced for his age. When you see guys at that level, you might get some inflated numbers offensively because of the light air, but the talent was definitely there."
Callaspo's talent shone brightly in 2002, as he led the league in runs, hits and triples, and was named to the Pioneer League All-Star game. Even more impressive, he struck out just 14 times in 299 at-bats, a talent he would maintain throughout his Minor League career.
The ability to put the ball in play was both a blessing and a curse for the switch-hitting second baseman. While he didn't strike out very often, he didn't take many pitches and, as a result, drew very few walks. It was an area of his game that he worked on with Salt Lake City hitting coach Jim Eppard.
"This kid was really blessed with terrific hand-eye coordination," Eppard said. "He's able to put a ball in play with some of the best ones I've seen. He's a guy that you knew when he was up there was always going to hit the ball."
"One of the big problems with some people who hit like that or have that kind of ability is that they just have the belief they can hit whatever is thrown up there," Eppard continued. "Sometimes at the Minor League level you can get away with it, whereas in the big leagues you have advance scouting, and they all have an idea of what you're doing before you get there. So that was the thing we tried to get across mostly to be a little more disciplined and be a little more patient."
Minor League career breakdown
2002: Alberto Callaspo batted .338 for the Provo Angels, leading the Pioneer League in runs, hits and triples while making the All-Star team.|
2003:Callaspo won his first Minor League batting title, batting .327 for the Cedar Rapids Kernels of the Midwest League while also leading the league in runs, hits and tying for the lead in doubles.|
2004: Callaspo batted under .300 for the first time in his career, hitting .282 for Double-A Arkansas while making the transition to shortstop.|
2005: Callaspo hit .297 in 89 games while repeating with Double-A Arkansas and earned a promotion to Triple-A, where he hit .316 in 50 games for Salt Lake.|
2006: After being traded to Arizona during the offseason, Callaspo won his second batting title by hitting .337 for the Tucson Sidewinders of the Pacific Coast League.|
2007: Callaspo hit .341 in 59 games with the Sidewinders after batting just .215 in 56 games with the Arizona Diamondbacks. After the season, he was traded to Kansas City.|
Unfortunately for the Angels, that work didn't pay off for them, as he was traded to Arizona
for pitcher Jason Bulger. The Angels organization at the time was overflowing with infielders such as Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar and Dallas McPherson, leading to the availability of Callaspo.
"I was a little surprised, but at the time, if I remember correctly, we were stacked with infielders," Eppard recalled. "We just ran out of positions for him to play."
He took the lessons he learned in the Angels system with him to Tucson in 2006, where he drew a career-high 56 walks in 114 games and won his second batting title, hitting .337 in the Pacific Coast League. Callaspo was rewarded with his first taste of big league action, batting .238 in 42 games for Arizona.
Callaspo was given a chance to start the 2007 season in the Majors with the Diamondbacks but struggled, batting .206 in 45 games before being returned to the Triple-A Sidewinders. Callaspo's personality, however, left him equipped to handle the disappointment.
"He always had a smile on his face and was very energetic," Kotchman said. "He always brought it to the ballpark. There was never a day where he came where he was moping or was sad. He was happy to be at the ballpark."
Callaspo's return to the Minors showed he had very little left to prove there, as he hit .341 in 226 at-bats for Tucson. The demotion seemed to do some good him -- Callaspo batted .278 upon his return to the Majors in September.
Once again, Callaspo never had a chance to show his current team that he was able to put it all together, as the Diamondbacks traded him to the Royals in December of 2007 for former second-round pick Billy Buckner.
The move to Kansas City paid off for Callaspo. He justified the trade for the Royals, hitting .305 in 74 Major League games in 2009 and notching an 18-game hitting streak in September.
"To me, if he's doing this at the Triple-A level, you have to think he's got to get a chance to prove he can do that at the Major League level," Eppard said. "He seems to have found a home with the Royals."