With analysts counting down the days until the impending trade of Justin Morneau by the Minnesota Twins, fans must be starting to wonder: who is going to be the first baseman of the future if Morneau leaves? While it isn’t a guarantee that Morneau will be dealt—there has been rumors circulating out of the Twin Cities by ESPN 1500’s Darren Wolfson that the Twins will explore the possibility of reaching an extension with Morneau, at an acceptable price, before deciding on whether or not to deal him—the feeling around the league is that the market for Morneau will soon heat up, leaving the struggling Twins with a decision on whether or not to trade one of the faces of the franchise.
The problem with trading away Morneau is that there aren’t any obvious replacements for him at first base. Prior to the season, many believed that Chris Parmelee would be the heir apparent at first base; but after his slow start to the 2013 season, he now finds himself at Triple-A competing for a roster spot. In Parmelee’s wake has risen Chris Colabello, a free-agent signing of the Twins during the 2011 off-season. So far this season, Colabello is hitting .125 with seven strikeouts and two hits in 16 at-bats during his brief stint at the majors with the Twins; but on the other hand, Colabello is hitting extremely well at Triple-A by sporting a .354 average with 24 HR, 76 RBI, a .432 OBP and a .652 Slugging percentage. This will likely prompt the Twins to promote Colabello to the majors as they currently have an available spot on the roster, believed to be reserved for Colabello after his appearance in the Triple-A All-Star game.
Colabello isn’t the flashy name or prospect that Twins’ fans may be craving for in any Morneau replacement at first, but he certainly has proven that he is a more than adequate option to solve the potential vacancy at first base. So far in his career, Colabello sports a .314 batting average through 893 games split between Independent League baseball and the minor leagues. Colabello is 29 years old and isn’t the youngest player on the roster, but that certainly doesn’t mean he cannot be the next Twins’ first baseman over the next few years. I believe that if given a consistent chance to play on an everyday basis, Colabello could be a .285 hitter who produces 20 plus homeruns a season while driving in 70 plus runs. Granted, fans and analysts had the same type of expectations pegged for Parmelee when he first came up after his dominance of the minor leagues, but Colabello is a different type of player than Parmelee is in my opinion and his maturity and plate approach are what differentiates him most.
In the end, I believe some possible long-term solutions at first base could include: Miguel Sano, Joe Mauer or possibly even Trevor Plouffe. Scouts and people within the organization believe that Sano can more than hold his own at third and is becoming a very good defensive third baseman. While that may be true, he still may also be able to slide into first base if that is a spot that the Twins need to plug his bat into. As Mauer gets older, he also can become a candidate at first; however he has said numerous times that he wants to finish his career as a catcher and that is more than likely how it’ll go. This leaves the Twins with the wildly inconsistent Plouffe, who executives aren’t even sure will stick with this club past this season.
No matter which way you look at it, the Twins currently do not have a legitimate long-term solution at first base outside of Morneau who is also getting up there in years. All of the current options that are available to the Twins appear to be short-term replacements at best; but if any prospect has a chance to buck that trend, Colabello could be it. With the team going nowhere fast this season and the team exploring trade offers for Morneau, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Twins give Colabello every opportunity to play over the next few weeks as they try to evaluate whether or not he fits into their long-term plans.
Nevertheless, if Colabello’s minor league stats are any indication, the Twins may in fact have their future first baseman sitting right under their nose and they don’t even realize it.