No typical leadoff hitter, Calhoun excelling in role

Outfielder, singled out by Baylor, has become essential part of Halos' offense

No typical leadoff hitter, Calhoun excelling in role

ANAHEIM -- Angels hitting coach Don Baylor had never seen Kole Calhoun play in person before.

He hadn't seen the extra bounce in Calhoun's step that makes his 5-foot-10 frame seem a few inches taller, or the enthusiastic character that booms 'Sup!' whenever greeting someone.

But when Baylor arrived at Spring Training this season, he knew who the 26-year-old outfielder was and he knew what he was going to be -- the Angels' new leadoff hitter.

In February, when Baylor came to the Halos after three years as Arizona's hitting coach, manager Mike Scioscia asked him who the leadoff guy would be. Baylor's answer was a player who had six career starts in the No. 1 slot, with almost three times as many homers as stolen bases.

"He was really committed that he felt that Kole Calhoun should be in the leadoff role," Scioscia said.

Calhoun has taken that spot -- one he had never assumed for a full season at any level -- and run with it, jolting the Angels' offense to produce 638 runs (top three in the Majors) and baseball's best record.

He leads the American League's leadoff men with a .477 slugging percentage and is third on the team in slugging, behind only Mike Trout and Albert Pujols.

So why is this stocky, 200-pound sparkplug at the top of the lineup?

"He's a guy that can give you a 1-0 lead," Baylor said.

The undersized leadoff hitter is an easy guy to forget when he's followed by Trout, Pujols and Josh Hamilton. But Calhoun has made sure opposing teams pay attention to him.

The Arizona State product is hitting .278 this season with 13 home runs and 47 RBIs, numbers that point to him more as a middle-of-the-lineup run-producer than a first-inning firecracker.

"Everyone's like 'Aw, they just want a guy with speed,' but he does a good job," catcher Hank Conger said. "The big thing that stands out is his power and production numbers as a leadoff hitter. It's not all about what's prototypical."

For the Angels, it's simply about getting an early lead -- leads they have turned into wins. When Calhoun scores a run in the first inning, the club is 16-5, and they are 36-10 when he scores a run at any point.

"I called him over and said, 'You're the guy that stirs the drink for us. You get it started,'" Baylor said. "Even if it's just a base hit, it gets Trout up there early with somebody on, gets Albert up there early with somebody on. He knows what his job is."

Calhoun has helped Trout and Pujols to a combined 180 RBIs and 309 plate appearances with runners in scoring position.

"He does his job," Trout said. "He doesn't steal a lot of bases, but he gets on base however he can."

"It's pretty cool being the first guy up, and we've got all these great hitters in the lineup and I get to start off the show," Calhoun said. "When you start the game off on the right foot, you never know what's going to happen."

While Calhoun has injected some pop into the top of the lineup, the leadoff spot has infused some patience into Calhoun.

"It's something that's transformed my game," Calhoun said. "I've got to see some more pitches, and I've got to get some good at-bats and be the sparkplug of the offense."

When leading off an inning, Calhoun has walked more than he has in his career and has scored 69 runs, despite missing 31 games with an injured right ankle.

"He sets the tone for us," Trout said. "As a leadoff guy, I've been through it, he's been through it. He's kind of like the guinea pig and going out there and seeing what the pitcher has. What he's brought to this team, we wouldn't be here without him, for sure."

Good thing Baylor singled him out as the leadoff hitter.

"I was leaning that way, anyways," Scioscia said.

Now, it's the Angels leaning on Calhoun.

Matthew DeFranks is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @MDeFranks. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.