Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Twins Baseball: A Look at the Future

The calendar has switched over to May, and the Twins are over .500.  After a 1-6 start to the year, this is by no means a small accomplishment.  Enduring four straight seasons of 90+ losses makes looking to the future a necessary coping mechanism for Twins fans like myself.  For the last couple of years, I've been waiting and hoping to finally witness a "transition year." As of today, I think 2015 may be that year.

After a lengthy absence from writing in this space, I am hoping to become a more consistent presence.  I am going to start things off by looking to the future yet again, not as a coping mechanism, but to explore how the 2015 season can "transition" the team back to relevance in MLB. For the first time in years, the future core of a successful franchise is starting to show itself, and many of the big pieces are finally knocking at the door.  This is the first in a series of posts examining some of the major players who will power this resurgence. 

No, I'm not going to talk about Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, or J.O. Berrios (at least not today).  I want to kick things off by examining another piece to the puzzle, and an important one at that.  Today, let's talk about Aaron Hicks.

Twins fans have been hearing about Aaron Hicks for years, since he was drafted with the 14th overall pick in 2008 out of high school in California.  He spent most of his early years in professional baseball enjoying prominent placement on various top prospect publications.  In fact, from 2009 - 2013, Baseball America ranked him as the #39, #19, #45, and #79 prospect in all of baseball.  He was to be the next great center fielder for the Twins, following in the footsteps of Kirby Puckett, Torii Hunter, and Denard Span. Now, in 2015, Hicks is no longer a top prospect, and the "next great Twins center fielder" title belongs to Byron Buxton.  The general consensus is that Aaron Hicks is a bust, and doesn't have a place in the future of the Minnesota Twins.

I, for one, think that the general consensus is wrong, and here is why.

History Lesson

As a general rule, "toolsy" high-school prospects take much longer to develop into solid regulars in the major leagues.  Coming out of high-school, Hicks was not only considered "raw," but there was also considerable debate about whether to make him a pitcher or an everyday player.  That Hicks didn't move up the ladder quickly, therefore, was neither surprising nor alarming to the Twins.  Let's look at Hicks' so-called "top-prospect" years to examine his natural progression.

  • 2008: After being drafted, Hicks spent time in rookie ball as an 18 year old.  As should be expected from a high draft pick, he got off to a good start, slashing .318/.409/.491 and stealing 12 bases in 14 attempts. 
  • 2009: A strong showing in rookie ball convinced the Twins that Hicks was good enough to skip a level, and he played the entire season for Beloit (Low A) as a 19 year old.  Playing in a league where he was nearly 3 years younger than average, he put up good, but not great numbers.  He ended up with a slash line of .251/.353/.382, showing good plate awareness (40 BB to 55 K) but not much power (4 HR in 250 AB). 
  • 2010: As a 20 year old, he returned to Beloit for a second season, and improved his numbers significantly (.279/.401/.428), hitting 8 HR and 27 2B, while slightly improving his walk-to-strikeout numbers (88 BB to 112 K).     
  • 2011: The next season, Hicks moved up a level to Ft. Myers (High A) and once again struggled with the transition.   His full season numbers were similar to 2009, as he hit .242/.354/.368, continuing to excel in taking walks (78) and hitting doubles (31), while his anticipated "power tool" failed to materialize.  Under normal circumstances, Hicks would have probably returned to Ft. Myers in 2012, but after a stellar performance in the Arizona fall league (.294/.400/.559), the Twins decided he was ready for AA. 
  • 2012: Riding a wave of confidence from his AFL experience, Hicks' career really started to take off in AA New Britain as a 22 year old.  He truly had a "breakout year," as he continued to draw walks (79) while starting to show off his power potential (21 2B, 11 3B, 13 HR).  Overall, Hicks finished the season with a slash line of .286/.384/.460, while playing a great CF for the Rock Cats. 
  • 2013/2014/2015: While repeating AA wouldn't have made much sense after such a strong year, a normal progression would have Hicks starting 2013 at AAA Rochester.  His history certainly suggests that he would have struggled significantly with the jump, likely repeating AAA in 2014.  Had that been the case, and assuming that he worked things out in 2014, Hicks would have been in line for a mid-to-late 2014 MLB call-up, likely joining the Twins last July or September.  That would have put him in a great position to open 2015 as the starting CF for your Minnesota Twins (at age 25). 
As we all know, this is not how the events played out.  Instead of continuing to refine his skills at AAA in 2013, Hicks was thrust into the spotlight as the Twins' starting CF after Denard Span and Ben Revere were traded for pitching prospects.  Looking at the history above, it should not surprise anyone that Aaron Hicks struggled to maintain his performance as he bounced back and forth between the majors and AAA.   In 2013, he struggled to hit .200 in either MLB or AAA. In 2014, he once again struggled to get on track in the majors, even briefly giving up switch-hitting.  In fact, it took a return to AA New Britain, the setting for his breakout season of 2012, for him to really get back on track. 

The Turning Point

Last summer, in mid-June, Hicks was placed on the disabled list with a shoulder injury and was eventually sent to New Britain for a rehab assignment.  After hitting just .238, the Twins decided to leave him in New Britain after he came off the DL, to see if he could re-gain his confidence.  To me, this felt like the Twins (and Hicks) got a "do over," as Hicks proceeded to hit .297/.404/.466 in AA, .278/.349/.389 in AAA, and earned a much deserved September call-up to the big club. 

This year, the Twins surprised many, including me, by sending Hicks back to AAA to begin the season, keeping Jordan Schafer and Shane Robinson to share duties in CF.  Hicks has responded to this move by hitting .318/.396/.545, with 12 extra base hits (6 2B, 4 3B, 2HR), 12 walks and 17 strike-outs in 88 at-bats.  If he can continue this type of production at Rochester, Hicks will soon be re-joining his teammates in the Twin Cities.

How He Fits

Even though Aaron Hicks is no longer the "CF of the future" for the Minnesota Twins, he could quickly become the "CF of the present" until young Mr. Buxton is ready to take the reigns. When that time comes, hopefully later this summer, Hicks would look great patrolling left field next to Buxton. Consider how much our outfield defense would improve if we could trot out Hicks/Buxton/Hunter, Hicks/Buxton/Rosario, or Hicks/Buxton/Arcia instead of Arcia/Schafer/Hunter, Robinson/Shafer/Arcia, or Escobar/Schafer/Hunter (yikes!), as we have lined up a few times this season. 

No matter how things pan out by the end of the season, a productive Aaron Hicks could be a very important piece of the puzzle, as this "year of transition" plays itself out before our eyes.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

AP Thoughts


The Adrian Peterson Controversy:

The reactions and opinions about the Adrian Peterson situation have been extreme in both number and emotion.  Unfortunately, I have yet to hear a commentary that I particularly agree with.  After a significant amount of thought and reflection, I have decided to describe my own thoughts in writing.
First and foremost, this is far from the simple issue that most people make it out to be.  Living in Minnesota, the loudest voices are proclaiming that Adrian Peterson’s actions were wrong, not effective, and akin to “child abuse.”  From the Minnesota media, the consensus seems to be pretty much the same.  From the people who know Adrian, mainly his teammates, the general theme is of support for their teammate and friend, and even some more vocal justifications, such as from Captain Munnerlyn and Jerome Felton.  Others have decided to keep their personal feelings private, while expressing general support for the rights of parents to make decisions about discipline as they see fit. 
Out of Texas, where Adrian Peterson was raised, there has been an outpouring of support for their local hero.  This includes a public defense from his mother, and a carefully worded, “stay out of our business,” from the child’s mother.  Throughout all of this, most of our “facts” come from Twitter and various “news” organizations, neither of whom obtained the information and pictures legally, and all of whom stand to profit from the outrage.  To pour fuel on the fire, news of a second allegation, which sounds like it was really a “first allegation” that didn’t result in any charges, has made it clear to many people that AP is a child abuser. 
All of this makes for a fairly muddled situation, far from the clear cut case that so many people want this to be.  There are a lot of other “facts” in the case that make “getting it right” even more complicated.  My intention is to separate “actual facts” from “perceived facts” and also try to look at the case from different perspectives than are being widely represented. 
Discipline:
Children need discipline, and discipline is complicated.  As a white child from the Midwest suburbs, I was raised with a certain understanding of discipline.  That understanding included the idea that if I was really, really bad, I might get spanked.  The fear of that possibility depended on my belief that it could ever actually happen.  Fortunately for me, I did believe it, and I can count on one hand how many times it became necessary. 
In other families, other cultures, other regions of the country, and other parts of the world, that understanding is most certainly different.  Which makes this an especially sensitive subject is that the differentiation seems to consistently mirror racial and regional differences.  African American kids from the South will generally have a very different understanding of what constitutes discipline.  The fact that this distinction has a very strong racial and geographic (and potentially religious) causality should make all of us pause before rushing to judge the beliefs of others.  Just as “it was how I was raised” should not automatically excuse Adrian Peterson’s actions, neither should “it’s not how I was raised” automatically condemn him. 
Being a parent is hard work, and deciding how or when to discipline your child is an immense responsibility.  While there may be many very credible studies that suggest that physical punishment is less effective than other forms of discipline, we don’t live in a perfect world.  For a child raised in a stable home, by two parents who delivered a fair and consistent message about what is right and wrong, it may seem barbaric to think that this type of discipline would be employed.  In less ideal circumstances, where not following the rules could be a life or death decision, it is fair to think that more severe measures may need to be employed to gain a child’s attention. 
Ask yourself three questions, and try to answer them honestly:
1.       Were you EVER spanked as a child (in any form)?
2.       Do you think your parents did a good job of raising you?
3.       Can you say (with 100% confidence) that you would NEVER consider spanking your child?
For me, the answers are YES, YES, and NO.  This makes sense, because it is “how I was raised,” and “I turned out fine” so why would I believe that it was wrong? Think about your own answers, and then consider replacing “spanked” with “whooped”, and see if this is still an open and shut case.
The Law:
Aside from the moral and practical opinions on what constitutes appropriate discipline, we need to take account of what the law actually says.  I am not a lawyer; I have never studied law; and I don’t claim to be an expert in the area.  If someone can point me to a written law that prohibits a parent from spanking their child, hitting them with a belt, or whipping them with a “switch,” then I think the legal aspects of this case are pretty clear.  If not, then the case comes down to the judgment of the parent, and that of the jury (as an advocate for the child), as to whether Peterson “went too far” in his discipline of his son.  At this point, that has not been determined and likely won’t be for quite some time, which makes the rush to judgment of both the media and the public a bit troubling.
The NFL:
The NFL is, quite simply, in a terrible place right now, plagued by decades of concern for profit over the welfare of its players and the communities that support its growing influence.  The handling of the Ray Rice incident, and the subsequent handling of other recent issues, simply expose how secretive and protective the league has been over its image and its enormous profits. 
Let’s be clear, the troubling reality of Ray Rice is this: 
The NFL, in handing down an initial 2 game suspension, handed out a punishment that was far more severe than in most previous cases of domestic abuse by its players.  If it seems like there has been a spike in domestic abuse issues since the Ray Rice situation blew up in their face, you are almost certainly wrong.  The difference is that the NFL is actually starting to tell us about these incidents, for fear we’ll find out about them from TMZ.  The other thing to recognize is that, by most accounts, Roger Goodell’s initial defense of the seemingly light suspension was correct, in that it was in line with other punishments that the league had handed down in recent years for similar incidents. 
Precedent:
When we talk about precedent, in a legal sense or otherwise, we mean that punishments for certain behaviors should be determined (in part) by how similar situations have been handled previously.  Let there be no mistake, this is a GOOD THING.  Without precedent, we create an environment where decisions and discipline are guided by personal opinion, rather than facts.  This makes discrimination much more likely when deciding appropriate discipline, as similar situations can be handled differently based on personal feelings or beliefs.  It is almost always understood that discipline for “alleged” crimes or behavior be withheld until the legal process has completed, and a verdict rendered.  In the Ray Rice case, the punishment handed down by the legal system was nearly non-existent, in large part because his fiancĂ© refused to press charges and admitted to fault in the altercation.  In this case, the league’s hands were mostly tied, as the legal system let Rice off with a slap on the wrist. 
Personal Conduct Policy:
As private enterprises, the NFL, the Ravens, and the Vikings have a great deal of leeway when it comes to disciplining their employees.  This generally comes down to situations where the actions of the employees “damage” the brand.  In these cases, the employer has the right to discipline the employee in order to encourage more appropriate behavior.  Conversely, the interests of the players are protected by the players’ union, to make sure the NFL doesn’t “go too far” in its discipline.  In the Ray Rice case, the 2 game suspension was warranted, considering both the legal judgment and historical precedent.  
The wild card is the personal conduct policy, and more importantly, the “NFL brand,” which was damaged due to public perception that the punishment was too lenient.  The reason for that perception is the TMZ videos that were leaked for all to see.  The punishment, in the opinion of the public, was too lenient even after the first video was seen.  After the second video, however, the “brand” was immeasurably damaged, and action had to be taken.  The fact remains, however, that the punishment that was eventually handed down to Rice was unprecedented due to the lack of any formal policy dictating punishment for domestic abuse cases, and due to the fact that the new policy was not enacted until after he was originally suspended. 
Assumptions (these are mine):
1.       If Ray Rice had not been caught on camera dragging his fiancĂ© out of the elevator, he would not have received ANY suspension.  This assumption is based on the fact that he was essentially cleared of any “criminal” wrong-doing AND that he was theoretically a first time offender.  The 2 game suspension was almost entirely due to the release of the first video.  In fact, the league’s (and Rice’s) knowledge of what was on the second video probably played a big part in Rice not appealing the initial suspension.

2.       The uproar at the seemingly light suspension forced the league to re-evaluate its decades old policy of covering up anything and everything possible when it comes to the actions of its players, as long as they can keep it out of the media.  This is all about “protecting the brand” and therefore the money.

3.       The indefinite suspension of Ray Rice has already been challenged by the players union, and will almost certainly lead to him being reinstated by the league.  If I were a betting man, I would say that he gets a MAXIMUM of a 6 game suspension, and more likely less than that since the policy did not exist when he was disciplined.  Whether he ever gets picked up by another team is unlikely, but he will almost certainly collect on the remainder the money guaranteed in his contract with the Ravens, with the exception of the games he is officially suspended.
Back to AP:
Why am I talking about Ray Rice when this commentary is about Adrian Peterson?  The rush to judgment of Peterson is a direct result of the uproar caused by the Ray Rice incident. Add to it the extra emotion due to the involvement of a young child, and you have a perfect storm for a premature, and potentially unfair reaction.
To be clear, Adrian Peterson has not been convicted of ANYTHING at this point.  He has been charged with negligent injury to a child.  This is very different from being charged with intentional injury to a child, assault, or child abuse.  The charges, which he could eventually be found guilty of, suggest that he MAY have inflicted inappropriate injury to his child while exercising his parental rights to discipline him.
The PRECEDENT would suggest that no action be taken until the legal system had time to review the facts, and come to a judgment.  If, at some point in the future, the legal system determines that he did break the law, the league and the team would be compelled to act in accordance with its own policies and best interests.
The Vikings:
Most people believe that the Vikings screwed up this situation badly.  I tend to agree with that assessment, though not for the reasons that you might think.  Under normal circumstances, a 7 year veteran and seemingly upstanding citizen, would not be suspended by his employer on suspicion that he did something wrong.  The initial decision to deactivate Peterson was generally applauded as the Vikings “doing the right thing,” even though there is very little legal or historical precedent for such action (Chris Cook aside).  The subsequent decision to reinstate him was no doubt due to an honest evaluation trying to balance Peterson’s rights to due process with the interests of the team and organization.  Peterson’s eventual dismissal was nothing more than an organization caving to external pressure,  the almighty dollar, and making a decision without regard for facts, fairness or due process.
Bringing it all together:
After reading this commentary, it may be a bit unclear what my personal opinions are in this matter.  I’ll do my best to clear that up right now.  I personally don’t believe that spanking a child is a particularly effective form of punishment, and certainly don’t feel that it would be necessary to use a belt or a stick to more severely inflict physical pain as a form of punishment.  I also believe that any man that intentionally strikes a woman when not protecting himself is a coward.  I by no means support either behavior.  The fact is, however, that one of these examples is clearly illegal, and the other may be illegal.  There is also a difference in severity between the two, even if we assume both are crimes.  It is not up to me, or you, or the media to determine what is and is not an appropriate form of punishment for someone else's child.  If it were, I’m sure we’d all be guilty in someone’s eyes at one time or another.  If a court decides that a crime was committed, then the punishment should fit the crime.  And when Ray Rice is reinstated by the league after only losing 4-6 paychecks, the precedent will be set in regards to Peterson. 
I decided to write this out because I was having difficulty explaining why I disagreed with the “popular opinions” being expressed so openly and passionately.  In doing so, I tried to think about what it would be like to be raised in a family where this type of thing was the norm.  How would you feel to find out that the way you were raised, and the way you currently raise your children, is so “obviously” wrong and horrible?
Hopefully this situation creates an environment where we can look at all sides of the issues at hand, and have an intelligent, fair, and open conversation that is inclusive of all people, not just those trying to sell jerseys, or newspapers, or online advertising.

 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sunday (8/24) Roster

We are now only two days away (hopefully and thankfully) from the end of the Kevin Love trade saga.  Insider sources are leaking information and making their best guesses at exactly what the "previously agreed upon" deal with look like. For those of us who don't have any "inside sources", we are stuck waiting and wondering what the roster will look like come Sunday. 

The latest information out of the Twin Cities (@JerryZgoda and @DarrenWolfson) is that the trade will end up looking something like this:

Minnesota:
OUT: Kevin Love, Luc Mbah a Moute, Alexey Shved
IN: Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Thad Young

Cleveland:
OUT: Wiggins, Bennett and 1st round pick (from Miami)
IN: Kevin Love

Philadelphia:
OUT: Thad Young
IN: 1st round pick (from Cleveland via Miami), Shved and Mbah a Moute

Based on all the reading and analysis I've done, I believe that the math works on the above trade, and that it MUST be a 3 way trade in order to work.   At first glance, this trade makes sense for all parties:

For Cleveland, the benefit is obvious.  They get to create the next "Big 3" in an era where boasting 3 all-star players normally leads to championships.  They are certainly giving up a lot, but thanks to their nearly unimaginable lottery luck, they are giving up resources that they didn't deserve in the first place, and who are expendable on their rebuilt roster.

Philadelphia's involvement in the deal makes sense given that they are in complete rebuild mode.  Thad Young will make $9 Million next year before exercising his early termination option and entering free-agency.  Picking up a 1st round pick (likely in the 15-20 range) without sacrificing their future salary cap flexibility is a good deal, even if it looks like they are selling low on a quality player in Young. 

As for the Wolves, Flip gets (almost) everything he was looking for in this deal.  Wiggins, though far from a finished product, is a high-upside player on a rookie contract who gives the Wolves a potential "star" on the wing.  Picking up Young provides a decent replacement for Love at power forward next year, and gives Flip and Co. time to evaluate the progress of Anthony Bennett.  After next season, Young could opt out (clearing salary space), opt in (solid player and possible trade asset), or sign an extension with the team.  If Bennett develops in year two, Young becomes expendable, and either the cap space or trade asset would be valuable.  If Bennett doesn't show improvement, perhaps the Wolves look to extend Young after next year, or use the cap savings to sign a free-agent.  Dumping the expiring contracts of Shved and Mbah a Moute clears needed roster space and opens up playing time for younger players on the roster. 

Sunday Roster?
So, let's say that the rumored trade is accurate.  What does the Wolves roster look like on Sunday morning?

PF                                                  C                                             SF
1. Thad Young                               1. Nicola Pekovic                   1. Andrew Wiggins
2. Anthony Bennett                        2. Gorgui Dieng                      2. Chase Budinger
3. Robbie Hummel                         3. Ronny Turiaf                      3. Shabazz Muhammed

                                PG                                                     SG
                                1. Ricky Rubio                                  1. Kevin Martin
                                2. Mo Williams                                  2. Corey Brewer
                                3. JJ Barea                                         3. Zach Lavine

This not only looks like a relatively competitive team next year, but 6 of the 15 players will be in their first or second year in the league, so improvement can certainly be expected. 

The final piece of business is to trade JJ Barea to make room for Glen Robinson III.  While JJ can certainly provide some value in this league, he no longer makes sense on this roster, and I'd rather give the final spot to a promising youngster like GRIII. 

So there it is folks!  Nothing to do now but wait and see. Feel free to leave your comments or ideas.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Wolves Thoughts

Now that the Wild have completed most of their free agent moves, and the Twins have predictably fallen out of contention, most of the intrigue in the Twin Cities sports scene revolves around the Timberwolves, at least for the next few days until our attention is drawn to Mankato.

That being the case, here are my thoughts on the current state of Flip's crew:
  • As much as I would like to see the Kevin Love distractions come to an end, it is looking like this will get drawn out a bit longer.  It now sounds fairly certain that the Cavs will sign top pick Andrew Wiggins to a rookie scale deal, making him ineligible to be traded for 30 days.  Chicago's signing of Nikola Mirotic means that he won't be a part of a trade until August 18th.  It will also be interesting to monitor when Doug McDermott signs his rookie deal. The Wolves signing of Robbie Hummel makes a trade even more difficult, since we only have one roster spot remaining.  In any case, with the Wiggins signing, it appears that K-Love will remain in limbo for at least another month.  If I had my preference, I'd rate the trade possibilities in the following order.
    • Chicago: Mirotic, McDermott, Taj Gibson for Love + additional player
    • Cleveland: Wiggins plus Bennett/Thompson (filler on both sides)
    • Golden State: Klay, Barnes, Lee + pick for Love + Martin
    • Boston: Olynyk, Sullinger + picks for Love
  • I've included the key pieces only in the above scenarios, as most of these options will have to be adjusted so that salaries can be matched, or for roster considerations.  The T-Wolves, for example, are unlikely to accept 3 guaranteed contracts for Love w/o sending another one back (Barea, Shved, Martin). 
  • The Chicago deal provides a decent short term replacement for Love in Taj Gibson, plus two young players who could eventually form a solid core moving forward.  I'm not sure how motivated the Bulls will be now that they have signed Gasol, or how they would manage Gasol, Love and Noah in the frontcourt.  Long term, the Wolves could have a starting five of Rubio, Levine, McDermott, Mirotic and Gorgi, which could be pretty interesting.
  • I still think the Cleveland deal makes too much sense for both sides to not happen eventually.  Wiggins could be a star in 2-3 years, but Love is a star now.  Lebron will soon be on the wrong side of 30, and Irving is just entering his prime.  You don't miss out on an opportunity to put those three together to gamble on the potential of a raw 19 year old kid.  Without Wiggins' salary (and more) in the deal, or a 3rd team's involvement, this trade simply can't happen.  If the Wolves have to absorb a 3rd contract (in addition to Wiggins/Bennett), we have to send a contract back, or release someone. 
  • I like the idea of a Rubio/Klay backcourt, but can't justify handing out near-max contracts to two guards who are far from "elite" players in this league.  Barnes does little for me, and taking Lee's contract off their hands would be doing the Warriors a favor.  It is comical that they want to land Kevin Love in exchange for Lee, and then use the future savings from Lee's contract to lock up Thompson, who is the only trade piece that the Wolves are after. 
  • It would be fun to see the haul we could get from the Celtics, but this would be a last resort in my mind, and propel us into full rebuilding mode (again). 
I'm interested to see how this plays out so that Flip can start thinking about additional follow-up moves.  No matter what the deal, the Wolves are still left with an incredibly unbalanced roster, which is why moving a player out in such a deal is so appealing (and also a complicating factor).  In any case, it doesn't look like there is an end in sight.  Well, at least that gives us time to discuss Vikings QB options in a few days...

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Curious Case of Chris Colabello

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...