Naturally Speaking: Colon Struggles To Adjust To Pro Game

In my novice evaluations of June drafts, I have often contemplated just how major college competition compares to the various levels of the minor leagues. Northwest Arkansas prospect Christian Colon might just provide a useful gauge for comparison.

Christian Colon

When the Royals tabbed Colon as the fourth pick of the 2010 draft, he was the heralded leader of Cal-State Fullerton’s run in the College World Series. That season, in which he was named All-American by Baseball America, Colon batted .358 with 17 homers, 68 RBI and 13 stolen bases.

Colon played at the highest level of the college ranks. In the CWS, he experienced playoff baseball against the best pitchers colleges could offer. So how did that translate to the professional level?

Not well. At least not at first. His average at High-A Wilmington languished below .250 for the first month, and he showed none of the power seen at the college level.

But then, .250 looks about like what can be expected from Colon. He bumped his A-ball average to .278 by the close of 2010. But this season at Northwest Arkansas, it’s been more of the same. He currently sits at .256 after more than 450 at bats.

Increasingly disturbing is that Colon isn’t doing much else with the stick. His OPS is an uninspiring .691 and his eight homers don’t make up any of the deficiencies. Not in the hitter-friendly Texas League. Colon rarely has multi-hit games, much less multi-RBI games or multi-homer games.

If I had to describe Colon’s performance, I would call it “steadily unspectacular.”

The descriptions of Colon entering the 2010 draft seemed to focus more on intangibles than talent. He was called a leader, the consummate team player, a college version of Derek Jeter. But a quick read between the lines revealed something less flattering. Where were the descriptions like “fluid, great range, quick bat, power to all fields, etc.?”

They weren’t there. No one really seemed to sense that Colon had great talent. Just great character. Not that that’s a bad thing. But character alone won’t get you to the big leagues.

Colon himself seems a bit shaken by his struggles. He admits that he’s faced a steep learning curve.

“For me it’s been a learning process,” Colon said. “It’s my first full season and I’m at Double A, so I’m just learning and trying to get better every day.”

Colon admits that the leap from college to the pros was tough, and the jump from High-A ball to the Texas League has been equally challenging.

“You can get a call up to the big leagues from Double A. So this is just a big step up and it’s a learning process for me and it’s going to take some time. I’ve just got to be patient and understand that and focus on getting better every day. That’s what you go to the minor leagues for, to prepare to be a good big league player.”

He’s had more than a year to adjust to wood bats and to the life of a professional. While he is facing a lot of older pitchers, Colon is not young – he turned 22 in May. But Double-A pitching is posing him significant challenges.

“The pitching is a lot better,” he said. “They know what they’re doing, and the defenses are a lot better. Guys are closer to the big leagues, and it’s just harder to do things. I think it’s a big jump from High-A to Double A. Guys just really separate themselves. These guys are older and have been around. Some of them have been in the big leagues.”

So judging by Colon’s performance, it would appear that major college baseball isn’t comparable to anything higher than A-level baseball. Colon has yet to flourish against professional pitching, and may be deemed a bust if he doesn’t get it going soon.

Colon is a good-character, team-first player on a team in the Texas League playoffs. It may be unfair to label such a solid performer a bust. And Colon may become the slugging middle infielder the Royals hoped for.

But success isn’t guaranteed for the former college star. In a second article, I’ll look at how he handles the pressure and what lies ahead for the fourth pick in the 2010 draft.

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