The San Francisco Giants have spent the offseason compiling middle infielders to increase their depth by way of minor-league contracts, and a relatively quiet signing in Orlando Calixte may intensify the competition for a spot on the bench as Opening Day approaches.
In the days prior to the Rule 5 Draft, the San Francisco Giants placed Orlando Calixte on the team’s 40-man roster shortly after signing him to a minor-league contract in mid-November. Prior to signing with the Giants, Calixte was formerly a highly-touted prospect in the farm system of the Kansas City Royals, ranked as a Top 30 prospect in the organization five times. Other than a short two-game stint with the big league squad in 2015, Calixte has spent his entire professional career in the minors.
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Kansas City signed an 18-year-old Calixte out of the Dominican Republic, including a seven-figure bonus in the deal, but the shortstop didn’t impress right off the bat. In his first two seasons of professional ball, the shortstop bat .211 over 101 games while striking out 83 times and only drawing 33 walks.
Calixte showed signs of improvement in 2012 playing for the Low-A Kane County Cougars and High-A Wilmington Blue Rocks, finishing the season with a combined slash line of .262/.315/.444 along with 10 stolen bases, and 14 home runs. His strikeout and walk totals remained a concern, drawing 36 walks but striking out 109 times.
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Kansas City promoted Calixte to the Double-A Northwest Arkansas Naturals before the 2013 season, but he stayed at this level for an additional year following a subpar season at the plate. In Calixte’s two seasons at the Naturals, he hit .246 with a combined 23 stolen bases and 19 home runs, high strikeout and low walk totals still present.
The shortstop quickly began to lose traction as a prospect despite opening up 2015 with the Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers. Calixte once again struggled with the bat despite solid home run and steal numbers, batting .229/.287/.339 with 22 steals and eight home runs in 394 plate appearances.
A day before the start of Omaha’s regular season, Kansas City assigned Calixte back to Northwest Arkansas, where he would remain until the last few days of May. Calixte performed well enough with the Naturals over the span of 38 games to earn a call-up back to Omaha, hitting .295 with an OPS of .736. Calixte fared much better in his second time around with the Storm Chasers, batting .265 with a better OPS of .748, nine home runs, and 19 stolen bases, all while trending positively in his strikeout and walk numbers.
Calixte shares similarities with another player who signed a minor-league contract this past season in Jimmy Rollins. Analogous to Rollins, Calixte’s all-around game centers around a combination of power and speed complemented with a slick glove and a plus arm for his position. In his minor league career, Calixte has slugged 55 home runs and swiped 88 bases.
While he shows flashes of the former 2007 NL MVP, Calixte has room to grow. A lack of plate discipline has characterized his minor league career, striking out 598 times while drawing only 202 walks. These unpleasant totals occur mainly due to his struggles with offspeed pitches. Instead of waiting back, he’s often out in front when a pitcher throws a breaking pitch, causing him to roll over or miss entirely. In his first at-bat in the majors, he rolled over on a Scott Kazmir breaking ball and ground out to short. Furthermore, he also has a tendency to disregard the fundamentals and go for a more spectacular play, which results in unnecessary errors.
Calixte possesses the raw talent to potentially crack the Opening Day roster of the San Francisco Giants, but he’s still fairly young and requires fine tuning, specifically regarding his plate discipline. While starting the season in the minor leagues is never ideal, a little time to develop with the Sacramento River Cats would go a long way towards his future success.