It isn’t often that a player who has previously spent the majority of his career in an independent league receives an opportunity to compete for a roster spot on a big league roster. It is even rarer that a player takes the opportunity to partake in spring training and actually makes the most of it. For the Minnesota Twins, Chris Colabello represents rarity in the game of baseball.
Colabello, who was signed to a contract during the 2011 off-season, had never played for a team affiliated with major league baseball. During his seven year independent league career, he amassed career statistics of 86 HR, 420 RBI and 699 hits in 2,522 plate appearances. When he signed his contract and eventually was assigned to Double-A New Britain last season, he wasn’t given any bonuses or promises. In fact, the lack of incentive for signing the contract with the Twins was completely fine with him and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
After an average spring training in 2011, Colabello went on to put up terrific numbers by hitting 19 HR and 98 RBI in 134 games played. He entered this spring training with another invitation to the big league camp while also garnering an invitation to play for his native Italy in the World Baseball Classic. In 15 at-bats this spring, he hit .333 with zero HR and three RBI over seven games with the Twins. However, once he left to join Team Italy, his spring took off.
Since the World Baseball Classic, Colabello has hit .429 with two homeruns, seven RBI and six hits in 14 at-bats over four games. His performance has earned him increased playing time for Team Italy as the team advances to play in the second round of tournament. In their first game of the double-elimination second round, he and Team Italy fell 5-4 to the Dominican Republic. During that game, he went 1-3 with one HR and three RBI while serving as the designated hitter for Team Italy. Italy must now wait to see who loses the Puerto Rico and United States game before finding out who they will play next.
Colabello’s strong play will likely earn him extended looks with the Twins when he returns from his stint in the World Baseball Classic, but it remains to be seen if he will make the opening day roster. If he were to open the season at Triple-A Rochester, he could be in line for an early promotion if any Twins players struggle during the early months of the season. However, with the team in need of power and production off their big league bench, he could be an intriguing option to start the season at the majors.
Regardless of the outcome, Colabello is a feel-good story that serves as proof that hard work does indeed pay off. I believe that he will make an appearance in the majors at some point in 2013, but the timing of the appearance remains a mystery. It will be fun to see how he and Team Italy perform throughout the rest of the World Baseball Classic. It is my hope that he continues to blossom into a solid option for the Twins’ big league roster in 2013 and beyond.