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Going the Distance in Minnesota: Position Prospects in the Twins System

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The Twins farm system is rich in hitting prospects: Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Oswaldo Arcia, Aaron Hicks, and several others. But one of the most intriguing was never a top prospect: first baseman Chris Colabello

Chris Colabello
Chris Colabello
Christian Petersen

The Minnesota Twins farm system has developed good depth in impact positional prospects. Although 23-year-old rookie big league outfielder Aaron Hicks has struggled (.157/.245/.284 in 39 games), the Twins seem committed to him as their center fielder. Playing alongside Hicks this spring is 22-year-old Venezuelan outfielder Oswaldo Arcia, a power hitter who has performed reasonably well in the majors thus far (.263/.327/.463). Hicks and Arcia are likely to be long-term fixtures in the Minnesota lineup.

Down in A-ball, the Twins have another pair of outstanding prospects: third baseman Miguel Sano and center fielder Byron Buxton.

Sano just turned 20 years old earlier this month but is murdering older competition in the High-A Florida State League, hitting an incredible .350/.443/.694 with 13 homers. He has one of the most impressive bats in the minor leagues with outstanding power and enough plate discipline to get by. His third base defense is still rough, but even if he shifts to first base (or even if he becomes a DH), he still projects as a superstar and lineup anchor.

Buxton is an outstanding athlete with a superior glove and an explosive power/speed combination, currently hitting .315/.419/.564 with 30 walks and 20 steals in 43 games for Low-A Cedar Rapids. If Hicks doesn't get his bat going, Buxton will be the long-term answer in center field. Even if Hicks does unlock his offense, Buxton is still so good that he'll shift Hicks over to left or right field.

All four of these key prospects were acquired through traditional means. Arcia was signed out of Venezuela in 2007. Hicks was a first round pick out of high school in Long Beach, California, in 2008. Sano was signed as a free agent from the Dominican Republic in 2009. Buxton was drafted in the first round in 2012 out of high school in Baxley, Georgia.

The Twins also have several other highly-promising position prospects with a chance to be regulars, including second baseman Eddie Rosario (fourth round, 2010, Puerto Rico), outfielder Max Kepler (free agent, 2009, Germany), third baseman Travis Harrison (supplemental first round, 2011, Tustin, California), and infielders Niko Goodrum (second round, 2010, Fayetteville, Georgia) and Jorge Polanco (free agent, 2009, Dominican Republic).

If all goes according to plan, the future Twins lineup will be centered on some arrangement of the Sano/Buxton/Arcia/Hicks core, with Rosario likely at second base.

Now, all that said, one very interesting player just promoted to the major league roster was never a top prospect: first baseman/outfielder Chris Colabello.

He played college ball at Assumption College in Massachusetts, an NCAA Division II school. Undrafted, Colabello made his way to the independent Canadian-American League, where he played seven seasons for Worchester and Nashua. He was excellent in those seven seasons, hitting .317/.390/.514 over 583 games.

First basemen in independent leagues, even successful first basemen, are generally not considered hot prospects for affiliated ball. Twins scouts noticed him however, and when a roster spot for a first baseman/DH opened up for Double-A New Britain in 2012, Colabello was signed as a free agent to cover the hole. He made the most of it, hitting .284/.358/.478 with 19 homers and earning a non-roster invite to major league spring training for 2013. He played for Italy in the World Baseball Classic this spring, and continued to impress Twins brass during his time in camp, an impression made all the stronger with an outstanding start in 2013: .358/.417/.659 in 46 games for Triple-A Rochester. And now he's in the majors.

Despite his lack of prospect cachet, the 29-year-old Colabello should not be underestimated: he's crushed the ball at every level, and has hit .304 with 54 doubles and 31 homers in 180 games in the upper minors since joining the Twins system last year. While he's not going to hold someone like Sano back in the long run, Colabello is the personification of the "never say die" attitude and an example of how a good organization will be open to talent from multiple sources, not just first-rounders and big-name international players.