TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Outfielder Kole Calhoun never gave up hope that he would reach the big leagues with the Los Angeles Angels — even after they signed Josh Hamilton last year.
Now, at 26, Calhoun is slated to be the team's everyday right-fielder and possibly its leadoff hitter.
"I'd like to say that I pictured myself here," Calhoun said. "You always dream. I don't know if anyone else pictured me here, but you set your goals high and shoot for the stars, right?"
Calhoun was certainly a star in the Angels' system, first being named the organization's minor league player of the year in 2011 after he hit .324 with 22 homers, 99 RBIs and 20 steals with Class A Empire.
Last season at Triple-A Salt Lake City, he hit .354 with a .431 on-base percentage and a 1.047 on-base-plus-slugging with 12 homers in 240 at-bats before getting called up in late July.
When he got his chance, he proved he belonged, hitting .282 with a .357 on-base percentage, eight homers and 32 RBIs in only 58 games and 195 at-bats.
"Kole made some terrific adjustments, first what he did in Triple-A and the he brought it up to the big leagues and did the same thing," said Angels manager Mike Scioscia, who said Calhoun is a candidate for the leadoff spot. "Whoever is hitting in front of Mike (Trout) has to be a player who, first, is able to take advantage of being challenged and second bring some on-base to the table with decent speed to where they aren't clogging up the bases."
With Peter Bourjos gone to St. Louis in a trade that brought third baseman David Freese to the Angels, Calhoun has a chance to play. He even has a locker in the section of the clubhouse reserved for everyday players such as Albert Pujols, Hamilton and Trout.
But he's taking nothing for granted.
"You've got to go out there and earn a spot," Calhoun said. "Spots aren't given out here. People have me written in but you've still got to earn a spot."
While it's possible the Angels' star-studded rosters might have slowed his pace to the majors, he sees the benefits now.
"Being around some of the best players in the game is only going to make me a better player and everybody in this locker room better," Calhoun said. "It's an awesome atmosphere to be around and it's a bunch of guys who you can go to and pick their brains and learn a lot and kind of model your game after."
Calhoun could be challenged for a starting spot by J. B. Shuck, who opened some eyes with a solid 2013, when he hit .293 with a .331 on-base percentage in 437 at-bats with the Angels.
"You can draw some comparisons but there are definitely some separation that each one has, "Scioscia said. "I think Kole had displayed more power. Kole is more versatile to play all three (outfield positions) if we needed to. Shuck is more of a corner. Shuck maybe runs a little bit better."
Calhoun's focused on improving, not position competition.
"I just want to keep getting better," Calhoun said. "I think last year was a real good year. I want to get better at every facet of the game and make myself better and the team."