Ronald Guzman is a long, angular athlete whom scouts hail as the poster boy for what a first baseman should look like.
Willie Calhoun is a short, thick player, a mini-bulldozer who’s trying his best to turn himself into a credible left fielder.
The top two prospects in Round Rock, Guzman and Calhoun, born just two weeks apart in 1994, represent the long and the short of it when looking at the Express’ season.
Guzman, a 6-foot-4, 225-pounder who quietly goes about his business, finished his first full Triple-A season batting .298. He hit a modest 12 homers and drove in 62 runs. He was selected team MVP.
Calhoun, a 5-8, 187-pound fan favorite, who plays with a certain panache, batted .300 and was among the Pacific Coast League leaders with 31 homers, 64 extra-base hits and 93 RBI.
Acquired by the Texas Rangers as the centerpiece of their Yu Darvish trade with the Dodgers, Calhoun split the season between Oklahoma City and Round Rock.
Neither Guzman nor Calhoun was promoted to the big leagues at the close of Triple-A play.
“I didn’t expect a call-up,” Guzman said. “My main goal is to do everything I can to put myself in position to play for the Rangers next year.
“The only disappointment was that I wanted to hit .300 and fell a little short, but I’m happy. I was much more consistent. I prepared myself better coming into the year, and I didn’t get tired, mentally or physically like a couple years in the past. My body, my mind, felt better.”
Guzman’s power is expected to develop as he grows into his long limbs.
Calhoun, who already exhibits tremendous power and is a finished product at the plate, thought the Rangers would give him his first big-league taste.
“I put myself in the best position to get called up and to not get the reward … that kind of (stinks),” he said. “A tough pill to swallow, but it’s baseball business, or whatever.”
Calhoun, often mobbed for autographs after home games, said he needs to go above and beyond because he deals with misconceptions.
“I take a lot of pride in batting .300 and reaching 30 homers, just because of the way I’m overlooked a lot because of my height and my size,” he said.
As he works on converting from second base to left field, Calhoun bristles at talk that his defensive play needs to improve. He aims to prove his best spot is not designated hitter. He made no errors in 29 games at Round Rock and just six on the season. In Sunday’s finale, he robbed Oklahoma City’s Kyle Farmer of a home run.
“People who haven’t seen me think I’m a terrible defender just by the stuff they read,” Calhoun said. “If you actually come out and watch me, they think, ‘OK, maybe he isn’t a bad defender at all. Maybe he’s better than average.’ Instead they put too much effort into reading and re-reading old scouting reports.
“I feel like I make all the routine plays, and I get some outs on hard ones, too. My confidence is really high in my defense right now.”
Guzman, the Rangers’ first baseman of the future, also has improved his glovework.
“I’ve heard that criticism and I’ve worked really hard on defense, things like footwork and positioning and giving my fielders the best target,” he said.
“There were a lot of positives. At the plate, I cut down my strikeouts, increased my walks and hit for average. This was a good step forward.”
The Express (66-72), who struggled because of a 5.02 staff ERA and 23-45 road record, hope for a turnaround next year, a season that will have the backdrop of a potential affiliation switch from the Rangers to the Astros next September. Express founder Reid Ryan is president of the Astros, and his father, Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, is an executive advisor to the Astros.
“We have enjoyed a great seven-year relationship with the Texas Rangers and look forward to continuing that relationship for the 2018 season,” Express CEO Reese Ryan told the American-Statesman on Wednesday. “Our player development contract is up for renewal at the end of the 2018 season so we will weigh all of our options at that time.”
Stacking up the Express
How the 2017 Express compared to the 2016 team. League rank in parentheses:
71-72 (7);Record;66-72 (11)
+32 (4);Run differential;-63 (11)
681 (8);Runs scored;656 (10)
.255 (15);Batting avg.;.266 (10)
142 (4);Home runs;139 (8)
.740 (10);On-base+slug.;.750 (11)
649 (10);Runs allowed;719 (8)
4.17 (7);ERA;5.02 (12)
1.34 (4);WHIP;1.53 (13)
998 (15);Strikeouts;1,005 (13)
33 (12);Saves;31 (10)
8,637 (1);Home att.;8,724 (2)