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The Curious Case of Chris Colabello

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After two straight 90+ loss seasons and a cool start to 2013, a lot of attention has shifted to the Twins promising stockpile of prospects. Plenty has been written about top prospect Miguel Sano and last year's 2nd overall pick Byron Buxton, but this post will take a look at a lesser known "prospect" in 29 year old Chris Colabello. At this time last year, I had never heard of Colabello. In fact, it wasn't until the Twins fell out of contention and I started aggressively following minor league performances that I noticed him.

Who is he?
Chris Colabello is a 29-year old 1B/DH who played high school and college baseball in the Boston area. After going undrafted out of Assumption College in Worcester, MA, he continued his playing career in the Independent League, primarily with the Worcester Tornadoes. In 2012, at the age of 28, Colabello finally got his first shot in affiliated baseball, as the Twins signed him and sent him to their AA team in New Britain, CT. After a very successful season at AA, Colabello spent the winter playing ball in Mexico, where he continued to hit for both average and power. These performances were enough to win an invite to spring training with the Twins, as well as a spot on Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic. After an impressive showing at the WBC, he was assigned to AAA Rochester, one step away from the majors. So far this season, Colabello has obliterated AAA pitching, adding "International League Player of the Week" to his resume.

The case against
For the past year, Colabello has been one of the most productive players in the entire Twins system, so why the lack of hype (and hope)? Primarily, it is because of his age. As a general rule, 29 year old men dominating AA playing against guys in their early 20's don't generate a lot of excitement. On top of that, he plays a position (1B) where the Twins don't need help (Morneau/Parmalee), and doesn't provide any flexibility as a utility player, pinch runner, or defensive replacement. It is easy to look at his situation and assume that he's overproducing because he's playing against younger players, and that he's past his prime and unlikely to get any better. It is also easy to overlook a player who played 4 years of college baseball, failed to sign a minor league deal, and then spent 7 seasons playing for the East Coast version of the St. Paul Saints.

The case for
Ever since I first noticed his name in the New Britain boxscores, "CC" has done nothing but hit. In his first season of affiliated professional baseball, he hit .284/.358/.478 with 19 home runs, 37 doubles, and 98 RBI. A winter spent in Mexico produced the following numbers: .332/.399/.644 with 17 home runs, 13 doubles and 44 RBI in just over 200 at-bats. In the WBC, he hit .333/.368/.667 with 2 more home runs and 7 RBI in only 18 at-bats. In a very limited spring with the Twins, he added 2 more doubles to go along with a .333/.429/.444 batting line. As of this posting, his AAA numbers are .441/.525/.853 with 4 HR and 2 doubles in 34 at-bats! That production was good enough to earn him the afforementioned "player of the week" honors.

Is it possible that he is a "late bloomer" and finally learned how to hit as he approched his 30s? The answer is a resounding NO. Colabello was a 4 year starter in college, with batting averages of .301/.361/.361/.380. He averaged 10 doubles and 6 home runs per year. As a 21 year old for Worcester, he hit .320 with 8 home runs and 7 doubles playing for only half a season. Throughout his 7 years playing independent league baseball, his batting average was .317, hitting as high as .348 and never once hitting below .300 for a full season. He managed to hit for average while showing some power, hitting 86 HR and 166 doubles in 7 seasons. While it is difficult to judge these numbers against Indy League competition, it is clear that Colabello has put up amazingly consistent numbers at every level, both as a young kid playing against older players, and now as an older player playing against younger, higher regarded prospects.

Final Analysis
Chris Colabello is too old to be considered a prospect, but has been too productive to be ignored. Is it possible that he simply flew under the radar for a number of years, finally got his chance with the Twins, and is now blossoming into a legitimate major league first baseman? The guy can flat out hit, plays a decent first base, and is mature enough to handle a bench role on a bench that is carrying a similarly limited player in Wilken Ramirez primarily because he has some skills with the bat. I think it would be a mistake to overlook his impressive body of work simply because of his age. Later on this evening, I'll be braving the elements at Target field watching the major league debut of Oswaldo Arcia, who will hopefully solidify his status as a promising future contributor for the Twins. After a short audition, he'll likely be sent back to Rochester to join Chris Colabello even if he has a successful debut with the big club. It won't be a popular move, but it simply doesn't make sense for a 21 year old prospect to sit on the bench when he could be playing every day at AAA. A 29 year old non-prospect is a different matter entirely...

Comments

  1. Oldgoat_MN's Avatar
    Colabello is certainly an interesting guy. Makes you kind of wonder why no team ever looked at him before, as his CAMA numbers were excellent for years.

    In a book whose title I cannot remember, Bill James talked about Brian Harper being that sort of player. He always had the skills. Too bad he didn't really get a chance until much of his career was behind him.

    On the other hand, I cannot see benching Justin so that Chris can play. A bench role might be appropriate. It will be interesting to see how they handle him.

    What would you do to get him on the 40 man roster?
  2. stringer bell's Avatar
    Arcia and Colabello for Doumit and Morneau by the end of the season, perhaps. Maybe Willingham will be gone in place of one of the two I listed. I see Colabello getting a chance to DH and play some first base for the Twins sometime this year. It is hard to say if he will be able to hit well in the big leagues, but it is a good story and he is demonstrating enough ability to be considered for a spot.
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