Angels leadoff hitter Kole Calhoun sets the table in his own good way

Written By kolimtiga on Minggu, 07 September 2014 | 12.56

Kole Calhoun timed his leap perfectly, reaching over the right-field wall at Fenway Park to rob Boston's Brock Holt of an apparent three-run home run and preserve the Angels' lead over the Red Sox on Aug. 19. After the team's 5-4 victory, pitcher Jered Weaver mixed gratitude with admiration.

"The little guy got over the wall," Weaver said.

This little guy, who stands about 5-foot-9 and 200 pounds, is having a big impact on the Angels' success as a somewhat unconventional leadoff batter.

"I've been one of the smaller guys on the field for most of my career. So I don't really take that personal," Calhoun said recently. "I just want to play hard and have fun doing it."

The more fun he has, the better the Angels seem to play.

Calhoun, an eighth-round draft choice in 2010 who was projected to top out as a fourth outfielder, has used hustle and surprising power to win a regular job as the Angels' leadoff batter even though he had never regularly batted there before. Despite a late August slump, Calhoun is batting .279 with 13 home runs, 63 runs scored and 49 runs batted in through 107 games and he might have ranked among the American League leaders if a sprained ankle hadn't cost him five weeks in April and May.

He has a .330 on-base percentage and his .455 slugging percentage is the best in the AL among players who have had at least 300 at-bats in the leadoff spot. The Angels are 37-10 in games in which Calhoun has scored a run.

"He's one of the toughest leadoff men in baseball," Manager Mike Scioscia said.

Calhoun, who will be 27 next month, isn't speedy in the style of Rickey Henderson. Calhoun's power and production have made him a key contributor to the Angels' major league-leading 86-55 record, as he has consistently set the table for heavy hitters Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. Defensively, Calhoun has committed one error and has been credited with eight outfield assists in 198 total chances.

"I'm not the fastest guy out there. That's not a secret or anything," Calhoun said. "But throughout my career I've gotten on base quite a bit, and I think that's kind of what we're looking for."

That's what the Angels were hoping for last winter when General Manager Jerry Dipoto — who had seen Calhoun play at Arizona State — traded outfielder Peter Bourjos to St. Louis for third baseman David Freese.

"From the first time I saw Kole to what he has become today, am I surprised? Yes. He's exceeded my expectations. From the time I came here as the general manager of the Angels and watched him play through the minor league system and his major league progression, not at all," Dipoto said.

"Oftentimes you don't really see what a player is made of when you're just scouting him from the stands. You find out about a player once you get in the dugout, you're on the field, you get to know them a little bit. What you're seeing now with Kole is probably the reason why we adjusted our roster coming into this season….And we felt like he was an underrated player in a lot of ways. If you fill out the scouting boxes, the five tools, he fills up the boxes pretty quickly."

Calhoun played 21 games with the Angels in 2012 but got an extended chance to prove himself last season after he was called up from triple-A Salt Lake City in late July. He batted .282 with eight home runs, 32 RBIs, a .347 on-base percentage and .462 slugging percentage. In management's eyes he became a better leadoff option than Trout or Erick Aybar.

"He has performed anywhere he has ever been," Dipoto said. "Probably the most consistent thing I can say about Kole Calhoun is that he's been a good player all of his life. Everywhere he's ever been he had excelled, and he's excelling at this level and that's hard to do."

Calhoun said he hasn't had to make any mental adjustments to batting leadoff.

"It's something that I've kind of taken personally," he said. "I want to be the guy that starts off the show and gets up there first and gets on base for these guys and kind of ignites the offense."

He has done that and more, defying predictions he'd be limited to a backup role.

"That stuff's just fuel for the fire," he said. "Whenever someone tells you you're only going to be a fourth outfielder or you can only do this, you can only do that, that stuff just ignites me. And I want to prove people wrong. You play with a little bit of a chip on your shoulder and go out and show them what you can do, rather than what their expectations are."

Score one for the little guy.

Twitter: @helenenothelen

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

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