Top 100 Baseball Blog

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Chris Colabello: Time Can't Stop Rookie From Reaching Major Leagues with Minnesota Twins

Dreams can be hard to achieve, but fortunately there is no expiration date on their fulfillment. Professional baseball player Chris Colabello learned that this year, as years of hard work finally paid off and landed him in the major leagues.

Colabello, a big right-handed first baseman/outfielder, played his college ball for Division II Assumption in Worchester, Massachusetts. Despite an excellent career, toiling in relative obscurity didn’t give him enough of a reputation to get drafted after his senior season in 2005.

He received an opportunity to play professional ball when his hometown Worchester Tornadoes in the independent Can-Am League signed him to a contract. Like most players, he hoped it would be a brief detour to bigger and better things in his playing career. Little did he know at the time, but he would end up spending seven years with the team.

He finished his excellent run with Worchester hitting a combined .317 with 86 home runs and 420 RBI in 583 games. Although considered old by traditional prospect standards, he signed a free-agent contract with the Minnesota Twins prior to the 2012 season.

Playing for Double-A New Britain last season, Colabello proved he could play. He appeared in 134 games and hit .284 with 19 home runs and 98 RBI.

Despite his excellent minor league debut, the soon-to-be 30-year-old was uncertain of what 2013 held prior to the start of the season. The Twins had former MVP Justin Morneau starting at first base and other players ahead of him on the outfield depth chart.

Trying to prove his worth, Colabello went out and tore up Triple-A, hitting .352 with 24 home runs and 76 RBI in 89 games (stats compiled in multiple stints at that level this year). His dominance was too much to ignore, and finally he received a call-up and made his major league debut on May 22 against the Atlanta Braves.

The big leagues have presented Colabello some challenges, but he is getting an opportunity to play. Morneau was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the rookie has received the lion’s share of playing time since his departure. He has hit .191 in 52 games, with seven home runs and 17 RBI. His first major league home run came in dramatic fashion, as he clubbed one into the seats in the 13th inning on July 26 to beat the Yoervis Medina and the Seattle Mariners.

What happens to Colabello after this season is up to him. Just because he has reached the majors doesn’t mean he is done. He is still living the dream, but it remains to be seen how much he still has to add to his journey.

Prior to this season, I had a chance to catch up with Colebello. Read on for more about his baseball story.

Chris Colabello Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?: I would have to say favorite player when I was a kid was Ken Griffey, Jr. He had such an incredible flow to the way he played the game, and I think him being young made him easier to relate to

Not being drafted, can you elaborate on how did you come to play professional baseball?: Obviously, not getting drafted was a pretty hard thing to go through. I was fortunate that the Worcester Tornadoes had just started their season in the franchise's inaugural year. Having gone to school in Worcester, thankfully some of the people in the organization were aware of me and they signed me.

You played seven years in the independent Can-Am League. What was that experience like and did you ever think you would be signed by a major league team?: Honestly, my experience in independent ball was great. In indy ball the one thing that you have to do as a player is mature quickly because there's really no player development. Playing with guys that had been to the big leagues/AAA/AA as a first year guy helps you do that I think.

In terms of getting picked up, obviously as time went along, a little more doubt crept into my mind that I may not get a chance, but I was always pretty faithful that if I kept going about my business the right way, kept improving and performing that someone would give me a chance.

Can you talk a little bit about how the Twins came to sign you?: My agent Brian Charles is really to thank for how this all started. At the time, he was more of a friend who was constantly pushing for me. He contacted teams on a regular basis for me, and eventually heard back from the Twins. Within about 10 days of that happening I had set up a workout with Twins scout John Wilson, and two days later I received a contract.

You had a close relationship with former major league catcher Rich Gedman; how much influence has he had on you?: I cannot speak highly enough of what Rich Gedman did for me as a player and a person. His experience in baseball obviously speaks for itself, but his humility and communication skills are what made him have so much impact on me. I can say with certainty that without him, I would not be where I am today.

How it feel having such a great 2012 season and getting so much attention after toiling in relative obscurity?: Honestly, the support I have gotten through all of this has been awesome. I don't necessarily feel like anything has changed for me personally, in terms of the way I go about my business and what not, but it is certainly nice to know that there are people out there following and supporting my career

What coach or player in the Twins system has given you the best advice?: Obviously, the coaching staff at New Britain is the group of guys I had the most direct contact with. Jeff Smith, Rudy Hernandez, and Stu Cliburn all played a big hand in helping me this past season. Our roving hitting instructor Bill Springman was also super supportive every time he came into town. I had plenty of talks with Paul Molitor and Riccardo Ingram when they were in town too, so I guess it's hard to name just one. I'm very thankful to each and every one of them.

Do you know what is in store for you in 2013 (asked prior to the start of the season)?: I know that I am still under contract with the Twins heading into next season, but beyond that, I really have no idea what their plans are for me. The one thing I can say with certainty is that I am looking forward to it, no matter where it is. I will continue to work hard here in winter ball to get better every day and be ready for whatever challenges lie ahead. 

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Guido Knudson: Pitching Prospect Could Soon Bring Relief to the Detroit Tigers

The Detroit Tigers are bound for the 2013 playoffs, but not by the virtue of their bullpen, which has endured inconsistent veteran Jose Valverde and shaky rookie Bruce Rondon among others at the end of games. While their relievers haven’t been a strong suit for the team this year, it’s a unit they can hope to improve in the future. One candidate who should be on the short list is prospect Guido Knudson, who just wrapped up a dominant season in their minor league system.

The right-handed Knudson graduated from Bonita Vista High School in California in 2007. He went on to attend the University of California-San Diego, where he had a stellar four-year career both starting and relieving.

During his career, he appeared in 80 games (42 starts), going a combined 29-12 with a 3.63 ERA, 10 saves and 253 strikeouts. His well-rounded production was enough for the Tigers to make him their 28th-round selection in the 2011 draft.

After moderate success during his first two professional seasons, Knudson truly broke out in 2013. Pitching as a set-up man for Single-A West Michigan, he was 1-2 with a 1.79 ERA in 42 appearances. He struck out 38 while allowing just 41 hits in 50.1 innings.

For his career, he has now made a total of 76 relief appearances, going 2-5 with a 2.78 ERA. At the age of 24, he seems primed to move to the upper minors to attempt to prove he deserves a chance in the majors.

Last offseason, before he took a major step forward in his development, he answered some questions about his time in baseball. Read on to find out a little bit more about the Detroit prospect.

Guido Knudson Interview:

Who were your favorite team and player when you were growing up, and why?: Growing up, I was a San Diego Padres fan. I was born and raised in San Diego with a passion for my hometown teams. My favorite players were Nolan Ryan and Trevor Hoffman. Two guys with a lot of confidence and presence on the mound, who were also fiercely competitive. I even experimented with a Hoffman-like leg kick in little league and convinced myself it made me throw harder.

How did you know that the Tigers were interested in you?: Steve Pack, the scout for my region, had talked with me a few times leading up to the draft and had been to some of my games at UCSD.

What are the origins of your name- which has to be one of the best in baseball?: Guido (pronounced gee-doh) comes from my mother's Belgian side of the family. Guido Gazelle was a famous Flemish poet, my grandmother's favorite. Knudson (the K isn't silent) is the Norwegian Viking from my father's side. 

What pitches do you throw?: Fastball (Two and four-seam), changeup and slider.

What has been your favorite moment so far in your career?: Winning day in and day out with the Flying Tigers last year. FSL Champs.

Who has been your most influential manager or coach?: So many to give credit to. Ryan Leake, Matt Hobbs, Dan O'Brien, Mike Maroth, Jorge Cordova and Greg Sabat to name a few. All have made me a better player. 

What do you like to do in your free time?: Movies, read, cards, sports and spend time with friends and family. 

How difficult is the mental transitioning from starting to relieving?: It all comes down to executing the next pitch; mentally checked in and ready to go when that phone rings. I've embraced it. 

What is something professional baseball players experience that you think would surprise a lot of people?: Euchre rivalries

What did you do last offseason?: Took classes towards finishing off my degree at UCSD, spent time with family and friends and prepared for the upcoming season physically and mentally.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Stephen Peterson: Adversity Just Another Obstacle for Milwaukee Brewers' Prospect

Left-handed pitcher Stephen Peterson has been a scrapper throughout his baseball career. It has served him well so far, and with any luck it will help him one day make the major leagues with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Out of high school, the southpaw opted to attend Marist University, but transferred to the University of Rhode Island following his freshman year. That decision caused him to sit out the 2009 season, but an injury playing summer baseball led to Tommy John surgery, and led to him missing two full seasons.

Peterson came back as a senior in 2012 to post a perfect 6-0 record as a Ram, with a 3.06 ERA and 69 strikeouts. Despite the stellar numbers, they weren’t enough to overcome having missed so much time when it came to having a team take a chance on him in the draft.

The Brewers ultimately decided he was too promising a prospect to pass up and signed him to a free-agent contract. He has spent the past three seasons working exclusively as a reliever, trying to make his way through the system.

Peterson was 5-1 with a 3.23 ERA and a save in 41 games at high Single-A this year. He also struck out an impressive 58 batters in 64 innings, while permitting just 12 walks.

During his three professional seasons, he has moved up a level each year, posting a cumulative 9-5 record with four saves and a 3.20 ERA in 80 games. About to turn 26, he is getting older for a prospect, but has his major league aspirations very much in play with his steady performance as he has risen through the minors.

Left-handed pitchers are always in demand. Peterson’s dogged determination combined with his fortuitous handedness means nobody should bet against him one day reaching baseball’s biggest stage.

Stephen Peterson Interview:

Who was your favorite player when you were growing up, and why?:
My favorite player growing up was Roger Clemens. My dad told me that when I was young I would stand in front of the TV and go through the windup trying to be just like him.

I am also a big fan of Derek Jeter. Growing up a huge Red Sox fan, I used to make a lot of people angry saying that, but you can't argue about his leadership and the way he plays the game. I like to model myself around the way he goes about his business.

How mentally and physically challenging was it to come back after missing two years because of injury?: Coming back from injuries is tough. The biggest thing for me was working hard and listening to trainers and therapists. It’s easy to get down on yourself when you have tough days. I focused on listening to my body and preparing myself to get better every day. I knew if I worked hard and pushed myself I could come back better.

I had a lot of great people around me who pushed me and helped me get to where I am today. I owe a lot to Coach Foster at URI. He never lost faith in me, and would always be there for me when I needed him. My final season, I had a few rough starts to begin the year, but he kept pushing me and helped me turn my season around and perform the way I knew I was capable of.

Did you believe you were going to be drafted, and how were you feeling after the 2011 draft ended and you weren't selected?: The 2011 draft was tough for me. After talking to Coach Foster, I believed there was a chance I could be taken late. When it didn't happen, I was upset. I remember watching the draft for three days with my father at his office, and watching the names come and go and not being taken. I walked out of his office on the last day feeling pretty low (To this day I think the only thing that kept me sane was the fact that the Bruins were playing in the Stanley Cup.) I never lost faith in myself though. I knew my career wasn't over. That last day of the draft put a chip on my shoulder that I still carry to this day. That feeling that nobody wants you. It stills lights a fire in me every day to go out and earn it every day.

How did you come to sign with the Brewers?: It was two days after the draft. I remember my mother calling me and saying that a scout from the Milwaukee Brewers had just called and asked for my cell phone number. I could tell by the tone of her voice how excited/frantic she was. She wanted to make sure I was hovering over my phone and ready to answer. A minute later, Brewers scout Brian Sankey called me and asked if I had been talking with any other teams. After a short conversation, Brian asked if I'd like to be a Milwaukee Brewer. Words can't describe my feelings or thoughts at that moment. A dream come true would be an understatement. I had my girlfriend and my family around me at the time to share that special moment. A moment I will surely never forget.

Which coach or manager has had the greatest influence on you?: Coach Foster from URI has helped me the most with getting to where I am today. The way he prepares players and the way he has prepared me for the next level is amazing and I could never thank him enough for that. He would tell us every day that everything we do as a program is designed to help you maximize your goals and make it to the next level. Everything we did as a pitching staff and as a team had a purpose. As I said before, he could have told me it’s time to part ways after my second straight year of sitting out because of injury, but instead he did the opposite. He took time out of his schedule to work with me and get me back to the pitcher he recruited to help his team.

On the pro ball side, I owe a lot to my pitching coach in Wisconsin last season, Dave Chavarria. After a rough patch and a rough outing, he told me to meet him in the bullpen after I threw the next day. He told me a few things he saw and a few towel drills I could do to clean up my delivery. I think it’s safe to say now he saved my season. From that day on we were out there before every game doing towel drills and getting better. I felt more comfortable each game and continue those same drills now to keep my mechanics clean.

Off the field, I wouldn't be the person or player I am today without my girlfriend and my family. They are the ones who make the sacrifices and are always there for me. The support I receive from them drives me to be the best I can be. For me, it’s that feeling that I never want to let them down.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew