The Journey of Chris Colabello

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Marveling at the winding path traveled by Twins' first baseman Chris Colabello to become a Major League baseball player.

Last week marked the two month anniversary of my first article for Beyond the Box Score, and I have to say that I feel very fortunate to contribute to the site on a weekly basis. Our former managing editor, Justin Bopp, once described the site in these terms:

Baseball is an intellectually, spiritually, artistically beautiful sport. It captures the imagination of the world because it represents overcoming obstacles, beating the odds, and triumphing in individual battles versus both yourself and your opponent. And sabermetrics makes it more beautiful, captivating, and compelling.

That kind of thinking is what initially brought me to BtBS as a reader, and it's the same thinking that makes me incredibly proud to now add my writing to the conversation. Each and every day the site features a tremendous amount of innovative and thought provoking analysis, and an equal amount of coverage for the great stories that are found within the game.

Early last month, I wrote an article centered on Met's rookie Scott Rice and his journey to the Major Leagues with the premise that any baseball fan should be able to enjoy the backstory that made Mr. Rice's debut so special. I am happy to report that Rice continues to pitch in the Majors, sporting a 3.52 ERA (3.40 FIP) and leading all pitchers in appearances with 28, but I am even more excited to point out that he now has some stiff competition atop this year's JAR (journey above replacement) leaderboard. The competition comes in the form of 29-year-old Twins' first basemen Chris Colabello, who made his Major League debut this past Wednesday after taking a quite unique path to Minnesota.

Chris Colabello played his college baseball at DII Assumption College in Worcester, MA. Despite a standout career at Assumption, Colabello went undrafted and was unsigned after his senior season in 2005. Many players in this situation would use their recent degree to pursue another career, but Chris believed he could play professionally. So rather than entering the working world of society, he opted to sign with the Worcester Tornadoes of the independent Canadian-American League (Can-Am League). That season he posted a 929 OPS which ranked tenth in the veteran-laden league. Following the season the Detroit Tigers invited him to their Minor League camp and it looked as if Colabello's stint in the independent ranks would be nothing more than a minor detour. However, after 22 days in spring training, the Tigers gave the 22-year old his outright release leaving him in the same situation he found himself just one year earlier. Once again, he decided to head to Worcester to play in the Cam-Am League in hopes of getting another shot with an affiliated organization in the near future.

Sadly, the phone didn't ring during the 2006 season. Or the 2007 season. In fact, including 2005, Colabello would play 7 seasons in the Can-Am League before earning another chance with a Major League organization. Here are his yearly wOBA and wRC+ for all 7 of his seasons:

Year

wOBA

wRC+

2005

0.395

147

2006

0.376

133

2007

0.397

148

2008

0.408

157

2009

0.365

125

2010

0.355

118

2011

0.420

165

In those 7 seasons, he left his mark as one of the most prestigious hitters in the league's history, setting records for hits (699), runs (387), doubles (166), and RBIs (420). The 2011 season cemented his place as one of the all-time greats when he hit .348/.410/.600 with 32 doubles and 20 home runs in 92 games. Despite all of the success, he never managed to make one of Baseball America's top independent league prospect lists and he had to watch as 73 other players from his league were signed by affiliated organizations over the years.

Even after his terrific 2011 season, well into February it seemed a foregone conclusion that Colabello would be back in Worcester to begin 2012. 28-year-old right-handed first basemen with no affiliated experience usually don't top any teams' offseason free agent lists, but luckily for him, his agent refused to give up on his big league aspirations. Instead, Brian Charles of Big League Management Company tirelessly worked the phones, finally getting his client an invitation to Twins' camp. During camp, Colabello impressed Minnesota enough that they retained him and assigned him to Double-A New Britain to begin the year. While there he proved that he is a legitimate hitter, batting .284 with 57 extra base hits and finishing second in the Easter League with 98 RBIs. His performance earned him a non-roster invitation to Major League camp (.429 OBP in 10 games), a spot on team Italy's WBC team, and a promotion to Triple-A to begin 2013. Would his first taste of Triple-A pitching slow the Italian slugger down? Not at all, as he spent the first 46 games taking aim at the International League Triple-Crown with 12 home runs (1st), a .348 batting average (2nd), and 39 RBIs (2nd). The hot start paired with the lack of offense for the Twins lead to his callup last week against the Braves, making Colabello quite possibly one of the most unique rookies in recent memory.

Perhaps that claim may seem like hyperbole, but consider the fact that he is only the 38th player to reach the Major Leagues after beginning his career in an independent league, and of those 38, he is just the 12th position player to do so. And to top it all off, he is the only one that spent his first seven seasons in independent baseball before earning an affiliated contract. Truly amazing, isn't it? Many players would have simply said this and walked away:

But he never wavered or lost sight of his goal, always working to make it to the big leagues. During spring training Rhett Bollinger of mlb.com asked Colabello if he ever considered giving it all up to this response:

"I promised myself three things -- No. 1 was that if I was having fun I'd still keep playing, No. 2 was that it was feasible financially and physically, and No. 3 that I was getting better. I think from the beginning I always thought I belonged and if I didn't believe that, I think I would've stopped playing. I always kind of thought that if someone gives me a chance I can get this done."

Bravo to Chris Colabello not only for being right, but also for having the heart and commitment to make it to the highest level, something that no one can ever take away from him now. As a 29-year old rookie that plays the most demanding offensive position on the field, he may never join the ranks of the Major League elite. More than likely, he will never even become a Major League regular. But after everything he's done to get to this point, we certainly can't call anything impossible when it comes to Chris Colabello.

Andrew Ball is a writer for Beyond the Box Score, Fake Teams, and Fantasy Ninjas.

You can follow him on twitter @Andrew_Ball.

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