Change in diet could lead to improvement for Calhoun

Dodgers prospect hoping to become healthier, improve defensively

Change in diet could lead to improvement for Calhoun

PHOENIX -- Dodgers prospect Willie Calhoun wasn't injured, traded or abducted by aliens.

The reason Calhoun -- the club's No. 4 prospect per MLBPipeline.com -- hadn't played in a Cactus League game until Sunday is that he's the latest Dodger undergoing a body makeover through the direction of Brandon McDaniel, the team's strength and conditioning coach, and his dietician wife, Andrea.

More and more Dodgers are losing weight and giving the spring refrain "best shape of my life" a new meaning. Kenley Jansen, once notorious for eating fried fast foods, has eliminated meat, as has Yasmani Grandal. Justin Turner worked with the McDaniels, and two winters later, he's signed a $64 million contract.

"It's amazing how what you eat, and when you eat, can have such an effect on your body," Turner said. "You really can feel the difference."

The Dodgers' plan for Calhoun, a squatty 5-foot-8, 205-pounder, is to combine a new lifestyle with an intensive conditioning program and defensive education to turn him into a power-hitting Major League second baseman. In the process, he would rewrite a scouting report that wonders -- even after a 27-homer season at Double-A Tulsa in 2016 -- if his unique body and suspect glove will prevent him from Major League success.

Calhoun -- who had an RBI single in his only at-bat Sunday -- isn't thrilled with watching, while other prospects (Cody Bellinger and Alex Verdugo, for example) play with the big league club. And he's tired of hearing about his defense, which has resulted in early-morning sessions with infield coach Chris Woodward.

Calhoun's RBI single

But Calhoun has bought into the overall plan, and he has even moved in with the McDaniels this spring to take advantage of Andrea's cooking skills.

"They welcomed me with open arms, and I couldn't pass it up," Calhoun said. "If I wanted to get out there and be quicker, I had to change my diet from all the fast food we eat. Now, seeing how his wife prepares food, it's not just about baseball, and I'm buying into that a lot."

Calhoun said he lost nine pounds in the first two weeks of the program, which manager Dave Roberts called "a crash course in a lot of things. To be a complete baseball player is really important, and learning to take care of his body is important. We're hitting him from all angles, and he's really working hard."

Roberts said Calhoun has already shown drastic defensive improvement. Calhoun, an outfielder in college, said moving to the infield has been just one of many challenges.

"It's all a learning process," Calhoun said. "But I look at it as a good thing. The front office is motivating and pushing me to be a better player. It's a blessing in disguise. If they didn't do this, it would show they didn't care about me as a player. It can be frustrating, but with my work ethic, I think I'll be a good second baseman at the big league level."

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.