Salt Lake Bees outfielder Kole Calhoun is one of the Los Angeles Angels' top prospects. Last season, in only his second year in professional baseball, Calhoun was called up for 21 games at the end of the campaign. That wasn't really long enough for him to adapt to the major leagues, but there were plenty of signs that he belonged there.
Since being selected in the eighth round of the First Year Player Draft in 2010 out of Arizona State by the Los Angeles Angels, Calhoun has been impressing nearly everyone in the organization.
Last season, his first in Salt Lake, Calhoun hit .298 with 14 home runs. He also scored 79 runs and stole 12 bases while contributing 73 RBIs. It was no wonder that the parent club made room for the left-hander on their roster as soon as the Bees wrapped up their 2012 season.
During his short stint with the Angels, Calhoun didn't put up the great numbers he did while with Salt Lake, but he knows he is capable of doing so and is looking forward to another chance.
"The thing is when you get up there you're probably not going to be in a position to play every day," Calhoun said. "You're going to get an at bat here and there and be put into some pretty tough situations. So it's hard to get in a groove you know get any kind of consistency going."
Calhoun also made mention of the tougher pitching first-time major leaguers face. "Guys out of the bullpen up there are different from any bullpen you’re ever going to see. They are all throwing 95 (mph) and they've all got nasty stuff — otherwise they wouldn't be up there," Calhoun added.
“You’re maybe going to get that one pitch that you can hit, but that’s about it,” he recalled. "That was the biggest difference for me, was coming off the bench. Without being able to get repetition at the plate, it's really tough."
After spring training this year, the Buckeye, Ariz., native held out some hope for sticking with the major league Angels, but he was sent back to Salt Lake. Not so much for his level of play but due to the star-studded and somewhat crowded outfield in Anaheim.
Calhoun, known for his hard work and hustle around the organization, was just happy to be playing every day and was determined to get off to a good start and help the Bees have a winning season.
“Nah you don’t really dwell on that stuff,” Calhoun said of returning to the minors. “You’re just glad for the chance to play and get out there and make things happen,” he added.
Things didn’t start off so great, however, for the outfield prospect. In the first game of the year against the Tucson Padres, Calhoun took a pitch off his right wrist and suffered a broken bone. Surgery was necessary, and the third-year pro was headed for the disabled list for the first time in his career.
But you don’t reach Triple-A baseball without being a hard worker, so Calhoun diligently rehabilitated his broken wrist and returned to the line-up on May 19.
He’s been reminding fans and teammates what a solid player he is ever since.
Playing center field and hitting in the number two spot mostly since his return, Calhoun has not only been impressive at the plate, but solid in the field. His batting average going into Thursday night's second game of the series with the Sacramento River Cats was .328 with a .410 on base percentage. Although those numbers have dipped a bit since the Bees embarked on an eight-game road trip 10 days ago, Calhoun has remained a factor in almost every game for Salt Lake.
Recently Calhoun has been getting a lot of attention. He is in the midst of one of his best months offensively where he was named the Pacific Coast League Player of the Week earlier in June. The Bees are also playing well as a team, putting together a 14-5 record so far this month.
"We're a good team, man," said the 25-year-old prospect. "Top to bottom of the line-up, we’re getting it done. Every night it's a different guy stepping it up and our pitching has just been lights out lately. Those guys are keeping us in games, and that’s what it's all about."
That's the kind of good attitude you'd expect to get from a player like Calhoun — a guy who has had to prove himself at every level and continues to put team first while playing his heart out night after night.
Such is life in the minor leagues of professional baseball. Being a top prospect and playing well means you could be promoted at any time. That also means you could be taken away from the team you've spent the majority of two seasons with.
"Right now, I'm with Salt Lake. I’m with the Bees. I just want to help us win games,” he said. “It's something I don't think about much (getting called up to the Angels) because that kind of thing just works itself out."
The parent club in Southern California has been struggling this season. With high expectations coming into the 2013 campaign with their addition of slugger Josh Hamilton to their mix of young stars, the lack of success has placed a glaring spotlight on the Los Angeles club. A lot of that attention has gone towards Hamilton, but Calhoun doesn't think that affects his status with the organization, even though he is an outfielder like Hamilton.
“You know, I really try to stay away from it to be honest with you,” Calhoun said. "He's an All-Star, he’s an MVP, he’s going to come out of it,” Calhoun said. "They have to ride it out with him even though he's having a bad year or whatever. That doesn’t really change what I’m doing, or what we’re doing here. If something opens up, then great if not, we’ve got a job to do here.”
Besides just being a member of the everyday big league line-up someday, Calhoun said he would love the opportunity to play again for Angels manager Mike Scioscia. “Yeah for sure he’s a great baseball mind,” he said. “You don’t really come across too many like that. He’s very knowledgeable about the game. He knows it inside out. You kind of learn a lot just sitting there and watching him do his job. I look forward to that again if it comes.”
Currently, Calhoun is number five on the Angels' prospect list and their highest rated outfielder. Even though the Angels are eight games below .500 and currently 10 games back in third place in the AL West, outfield play is one of their strongest suits, so Calhoun, despite his consistently good play for Salt Lake, may have to wait until September call-ups to get another shot.
“For me, that’s all right,” the young outfielder said. “We’re playing good baseball right here, right now, and it’s a lot of fun. I just want to keep getting the wrist better and keep playing better and the rest will take care of itself.”
Kenny Bristow is the staff sports writer for the Wasatch Wave and contributes to the Deseret News high school coverage for the Wasatch region. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. To contribute to DNews Preps for your area, inquire at 801.237.2143.