The trade deadline is now officially less than a month away, and the Yankees figure to spend most of their energy upgrading this year’s pitching staff and bench. The 2014 payroll plan looms however, and the impending free agencies of Nick Swisher (after this year) and Curtis Granderson (after next year once his 2013 option is exercised) mean the team is likely to be looking for a young, affordable outfielder in the next 18 months. Domonic Brown of the Phillies has been a popular name as a potential target, mostly due to his status as a former elite prospect, but he’s not the only guy out there.
The Angels are flush with young outfielders, obviously highlighted by the ultra-dynamic Mike Trout. They also have the powerful Mark Trumbo and speedy Peter Bourjos, giving them a very nice core of homegrown outfielders. Those three draw all of the attention and rightfully so, but down in Triple-A they also have the 24-year-old Kole Calhoun, who Baseball America ranked as the team’s 20th best prospect in their Prospect Handbook before the season. John Sickels ranked him as the team’s 11th best prospect this spring.
Calhoun’s minor league numbers are pretty dynamite, a .404 wOBA in 274 Triple-A plate appearances this season. That works out to a 140 wRC+, which is adjusted for ballpark and league. His Rookie League (141 wRC+) and High-A (142 wRC+) numbers are right there as well even though the Halos completely skipped him over Low-A and Double-A. We’re talking about 1,100+ minor league plate appearances that have consistently been ~40% better than league average after the necessary adjustments. That said, stats do not tell the entire story. Let’s look at the ins and outs of the former Arizona State Sun Devil…
- Calhoun, listed at 5-foot-10 and 190 lbs., offers some power and lots of patience. His 39 career minor league homers are inflated by hitter friendly home parks, though he’s also hit for plenty of doubles and has strong road numbers as well. An 11.9% walk rate backs up the patience part, and his strikeout rate isn’t outrageous either (17.2%). “He sees his share of pitches and knows what he can handle, seldom missing a pitch he can drive,” wrote Baseball America in the 2012 Prospect Handbook.
- A left-handed batter, Calhoun has held his own against southpaws over the last two seasons: .300/.367/.500 with nine homers in 230 plate appearances. Obviously that’s not a huge sample, but it is encouraging. “He’s confident and doesn’t dwell on bad at-bats,” added Baseball America.
- Defensively, Calhoun has experience in all three outfield spots as well as first base. Baseball America said he offers “at least average range on the outfield corners and at first base, and his plus arm strength is a good match for right field.”
- Calhoun got a taste of the big leagues earlier this season — eight games and 14 plate appearances — but still offers all six years of team control, the first three as a pre-arbitration-eligible player. “He wins admirers not for his raw tools but for his blue-collar approach, plate discipline and professionalism,” wrote Baseball America.
- Calhoun’s walk (7.8%) and strikeout (19.0%) rates in Triple-A this year have taken a big step back compared to the first two years of his minor league career — 13.3% walks and 16.8% strikeouts. Big league pitchers struck him out four times in those 14 plate appearances (28.6%).
- Baseball America says he has “fringy bat speed,” which limits his long-term power potential. Yankee Stadium could help to a certain extent since he is a lefty, but anytime you’re talking about a long-term corner outfielder with questionable power you have a potential ‘tweener.
- Although Calhoun can steal the occasional base, he isn’t terribly efficient — 33-for-47 (70.2%) in his minor league career — and Baseball America says he “he grades out as a below-average runner.”
The Yankees do not have anyone in the upper levels of their farm system who projects as an everyday big leaguer, which is why they’re likely to be stuck scrounging the trade market for a Swisher/Granderson replacement. The Angels have enviable young outfield depth and seem like a logical trade partner*, though they’re reported looking for a rotation upgrade and a left-handed reliever better than Hisanori Takahashi. The Yankees don’t have that to offer, not unless they’re willing to dangle Boone Logan. Can’t say I would recommend that when we’re talking about a kid with zero big league success to his credit. The goal is still to win this year.
Prospect-for-prospect trades are very rare because every team loves their kids more than everyone else’s. Maybe GM Jerry Dipoto likes Adam Warren or D.J. Mitchell enough to do a one-for-one swap, which would be a cool little “you need a pitcher, I need a hitter, let’s trade” kinda deal. Think Jesus Montero-for-Michael Pineda on a smaller, Triple-A scale. That would be neat. Either way, I do like Calhoun quite a bit because he’s well-rounded and has shown signs of being able to hold his own against same-side pitchers, plus he offers the Yankees trademarks of left-handed pop (assuming Yankee Stadium shows him some love) and patience. He’s not a sexy name, but he’s a definite fit.
* Just to be clear: There are no reports or evidence that the Yankees are trying to acquire Calhoun or that he’s even available. This is me just throwing a name out there.