Tuesday January 20th, 2015

To kick off our fantasy baseball preview, Michael Beller will profile certain players who may not fit as a breakout, sleeper or bust (all of which we'll discuss in our preview), but who will still make a major impact in fantasy baseball this season.

Runs have forever been the most overlooked stat in traditional head-to-head fantasy baseball formats. Everyone chases power, looking to fill up home runs and RBI. High batting average players always get notice, and there’s a prime reason why guys like Billy Hamilton and Dee Gordon are so valuable in fantasy circles heading into 2015. Too many owners assume that if they can be strong in any three of those categories, the runs will naturally follow, but that isn’t always the case. With scoring down across baseball, rarely has it been more important than it is in 2015 to target guys with high run ceilings.

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That’s why one of my favorite mid-round players is the Angels’ Kole Calhoun.

Calhoun had a nice showing in 2014, his first full season in the majors. He hit .272/.325/.450 with 17 homers, 58 RBI and 90 runs in 537 plate appearances. The advanced metrics loved him, too, as he posted a .341 wOBA and 125 weighted runs created plus. By all measures, he was a key piece pushing the Angels to the AL West crown.

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The 27-year-old was a bit of a late bloomer, but his minor league numbers, and previous stints in the majors, suggest that his 2014 was for real. Calhoun spent most of '12 at Triple-A Salt Lake, slashing .298/.369/.508 with 14 homers and 12 steals. He opened the '13 season at Salt Lake as well, but forced his way to the majors after hitting .354/.431/.617 and belting 12 homers in 274 plate appearances. He acquitted himself well in that first real taste of the majors, posting a .282/.347/.462 slash line with eight bombs in 222 trips to the plate. Basically, '14 was the natural progression of a hitter who had grown at each level of professional baseball.

Calhoun’s power is for real. He has a career 13.2-percent HR/FB ratio, which is comfortably above league average. His 13.4-percent ratio last year was tied with Carlos Gomez and Buster Posey, and just behind Andrew McCutchen and Ryan Braun. There’s also some speed here, though that didn’t really show up last year, as Calhoun had just five steals. It was the first season in his professional career that he didn’t swipe at least 10 bags, so hopefully we can look back on that as an anomaly after this season. Steamer projects him to be a 19-9 player with 90 runs in 141 games. That definitely seems fair. If he plays 150 games or slightly outperforms his projections, 20-to-25 homers and 10-to-15 steals are well within reach, and he would be a lock to surpass 100 runs. That’s production you aren’t going to find in most players at Calhoun’s average draft position.

Having said that, there are areas for improvement here. Calhoun struck out in nearly one-fifth of his plate appearances last year while posting a walk rate of just 7.1 percent. That’s why he had a .325 OBP despite a .272 batting average. He’s also a dead-pull hitter, evidenced by his home run chart, courtesy of ESPN’s Hit Tracker, and his spray chart from Brooks Baseball.

Angel Stadium is not a place a pull-happy lefty wants to call home. According to park factors, it has been the ninth-worst stadium for left-handed hitters over the last two seasons. That goes a long way toward explaining Calhoun’s home/road splits last year. He hit just .252/.292/.408 with seven jacks at home. When the Angels went on the road, Calhoun slashed .290/.355/.490 with 10 homers. That could simply be something Calhoun owners have to live with. He proved last year that he can still have plenty of value while struggling at home, but it would be encouraging to see him change his approach and start going the other way with a bit more regularity. Angel Stadium was the fourth-friendliest park to righties in 2013 and 2014, so Calhoun would likely benefit if he began to use the other half of the field.

Calhoun’s floor feels safely in the .265-17-90-55-5 range. He has a prime spot in a good lineup, and could be one of the few players to score 100-plus runs this season. If he plays in 145-to-150 games, he’ll return top-60 value while coming off the board a full 20 picks later.

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