MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Canadian American Association of Professional Baseball is far off the game's main grid, independent from the traditional farm system and down to four teams preserved as a division of a partner league.
The Can-Am also ios where the current AL RBIs leader came from. Yes, Chris Colabello is off to quite the start this season for the Minnesota Twins. Those seven years of obscurity in independent league ball have finally paid off.
"His belief is he's a big league baseball player," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That says a lot about what's inside of this young man. So it's a great story and continues to get better and better because he's swinging the bat really, really well."
Through seven games, Colabello is batting .370 with four doubles, one home run and 11 RBIs plus a 1.043 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. This is hardly the sample size suggesting these statistics can be maintained over an entire season.
Colabello hit .194 in 55 games last year for the Twins, striking out 58 times in 160 at-bats, a struggle he blamed largely on a lapse in focus and perspective with two strikes.
But he has proved he can slug it out at every level so far.
Even as an everyday player?
"I don't think anything he's done has proven that he can't be," assistant general manager Rob Antony said, adding: "I think he feels comfortable and confident, and the players are confident in him. The manager's gaining confidence in him, and he goes up looking to do some damage. He's going to strike out some, and you take some of the ups and downs, but he's a threat. He's been a clutch performer for us so far."
When the Twins decided during the offseason to move Joe Mauer from catcher to first base, another block was plopped in front of Colabello's unconventional path. He swung so well in spring training, however, the Twins couldn't possibly keep him off the team with their need for more run production. He can give Mauer a break, if necessary, be the designated hitter or play right field.
As a guy who went undrafted out of Assumption College, an NCAA Division II school in his home state of Massachusetts, Colabello probably will be the last one on the roster to feel comfortable.
"Anytime you get complacent or start to feel like you belong or anything like that you go backward," Colabello said. "For me, every day is a new challenge. I'm trying to improve every day, get better every day, whether it be offensively, defensively, mentally. I think it would be irresponsible to think I'm here and I've made it and that's enough."
The 30-year-old won the International League MVP award last season after batting .352 with 24 homers and 76 RBIs in 89 games with Triple-A Rochester before his callup. The Twins had signed him out of the Can-Am in 2012 and assigned him to Double-A New Britain.
Colabello was signed by the Detroit Tigers out of a tryout camp in 2006 but released 22 days later; he rejoined the Worcester Tornadoes, the team he played for the majority of his seven years in the Can-Am that is no longer in operation.
"It's hard to look and see a 28-year-old guy in the independent leagues and say, 'Oh, yeah, he'll be in the big leagues in two years,'" Antony said. "So sometimes you've got to get lucky, too."
Colabello got the call, but his presence on Minnesota's roster gives all of the Can-Am guys — "a lot of really good players," he said — a symbolic piece of the experience.
"These days, this ride I'm on is as much for those guys as it is for me," he said.