Deep beneath AT&T Park, there is a laboratory. The working conditions are tough but fair, and the hours are unimaginably long. The scientists toiling away do it in part for the money, yes, but also for the satisfaction and fulfillment that comes with a job well done, even if they’ll never get the recognition they deserve.
One day last winter, Bobby Evans kicked the door open and yelled, “Gregor Blanco, but he can play shortstop too.” That was it. The scientists looked around at each other in confusion. Evans stared for a bit, then slammed the door behind him.
And that’s the story of how the Giants acquired/created Orlando Calixte. He first made news around here because he was the rare minor-league free agent who was immediately added to the 40-man roster to keep him away from the Rule 5 draft. When I noted this was odd, someone from the sports agency Octagon politely noted that Calixte was by far the firm’s most popular minor-league free agent, and that there was a definite chance he would be lost in the draft. When the season started, Baseball America ranked him #29 on their Giants top-30 list, which was just as much of a statement about the state of the Giants’ farm as it was Calixte’s abilities, and they wrote:
Calixte’s above-average bat speed gives him average power potential, and he is a good baserunner.
Those tools never really transferred over to the statistics, though, and he posted on-base percentages that hovered between .280 and .320, without the kind of power to make up for it.
This year in Triple-A, though, that power showed up. His eight home runs in 41 games got him more than halfway to his career high of 14, and he’s just three homers away from matching last year’s total. He turned 25 just before the season started, so the increased power doesn’t have to be a fluke. This is the age where it would start showing up if it’s for real.
I regret to inform you that ZiPS isn’t impressed. Before the season started, it pegged Calixte as a .230/.272/.331 hitter who was below replacement level. And while his .287/.331/.507 line would look amazing as a major leaguer, especially on a team that’s incapable of scoring runs, you can immediately see the red flags. The OBP is buoyed by his average; his average has never been that high; this is the first time he’s showed home run power.
At this point, though, the Giants have very little to lose. Gorkys Hernandez has flopped. There are longer-term solutions in the minors (Austin Slater, Chris Shaw, Ryder Jones) who would all provide a short-term burst of adrenaline, like Christian Arroyo, before they would remind us that they’re extremely rushed and probably in need of more seasoning, like Christian Arroyo. The time to experiment with them is probably September, unless they go on a hot streak that can’t be contained.
Until then, I’m all for Calixte siphoning at-bats against left-handers in center and second, getting a couple more starts at third base, and giving the Giants a looksee. I’m guessing he’ll struggle and hit something like .250/.290/.390 because that’s just the way the 2017 Giants roll. But I’m not in favor of extending the gorkysperience any longer than he needs to be extended, and this gives the Giants a chance to stop relying on Arroyo so much, too.
More Calixte, then. The debut performance was encouraging, and while it’s unlikely that he’s going to help in any meaningful capacity over the next couple years, that was also the case for Blanco and Andres Torres. We’re at the stage in the season where the raffle tickets should rule, the gloaming between the short-term urgency and the long-term planning that comes after everything fails. I’m willing to try Calixte (and Jae-gyun Hwang, for that matter) for the next month or so.
But, uh, keep an eye on Chris Shaw and Austin Slater, just in case.