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All Willie Calhoun Does Is Hit. That’s Not Good Enough for the Rangers.

Willie Calhoun greets teammates during a game with the Tampa Bay Rays in June 2019.EXPAND
Willie Calhoun greets teammates during a game with the Tampa Bay Rays in June 2019.
Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty
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Rangers designated hitter, left fielder and kinda, sorta second baseman Willie Calhoun is going back to the minors, the team announced Tuesday, to make room for Hunter Pence's return from the injured list. That's the what. Given Calhoun's performance since rejoining the Rangers on May 15, the why is much harder to figure out.

So far in 2019, Calhoun has had two or more plate appearances in 22 of the Rangers’ 94 games. He has at least one hit in 16 of those contests, including five doubles and five home runs. Calhoun's OPS+, a statistic that standardizes a hitter's on-base and slugging performance with the rest of the hitters in his league, is fifth-best on the team and easily better than the likes of Ronald Guzman, Rougned Odor, Asdrubal Cabrera, Delino DeShields and Nomar Mazara.

All Calhoun's done since the Rangers traded for him at the 2017 trade deadline is hit at any level to which he's been assigned. His frustration was palpable Tuesday.

“I’m speechless. I’ve helped the team win," Calhoun told reporters, according to Evan Grant. "If me playing every day at Nashville helps the team win, then I guess I have to play every day in Nashville.”

During his time in the Rangers and Dodgers organizations, Calhoun has already racked up more than 1,200 plate appearances in Triple-A ball. There is literally nothing he is going to prove in Nashville that he hasn't proved in Oklahoma City, Round Rock or the first time he was in the Music City. Calhoun is a mediocre outfielder, a worse-than-mediocre second baseman and a way-better-than-mediocre hitter.

While guys with two above-average tools — contact and power hitting, in Calhoun's case — are often expendable at the big league level, Calhoun is just 24. As is, Calhoun is good enough to start every day for a fringe contender like the Rangers. The team doesn't lose anything if it keeps him in Arlington as it chases the American League's second wild-card berth in the playoffs. Given plenty of big league at bats, however, he has the chance to evolve into an elite hitter.

By sending Calhoun down, general manager Jon Daniels and the rest of Rangers management risk alienating Calhoun further — he believes he should have made the big club out of spring training in each of the last two seasons — and stymieing his development against lower-level competition.  

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