Whenever coaches and scouts talk about Christian Colon, they invariably start and finish with praise for his baseball IQ, instincts, leadership skills and confidence. Colon is just a darn good baseball player, they’ll say, a born winner who simply finds a way to get the job done.
Amidst the kudos for Colon’s intangibles and makeup, it’s easy to overlook his talent, and his production. A second-team All-American as Cal State Fullerton’s sophomore shortstop this spring, Colon ratcheted his game to another level this summer, hitting .362/.459/.617 and leading Team USA in slugging, home runs (five), RBIs (37), runs (31) and stolen bases (24 in 26 attempts). He also drew 11 walks and struck out a team-low six times despite registering a team-high 94 at-bats.
For his impressive offensive production—and, yes, for his valuable leadership—Colon is Baseball America’s Summer Player of the Year.
“He’s a special, special person and a special, special player,” said Eric Campbell, USA Baseball’s general manager of national teams. “He really believes in this uniform, and he wants to make history in this uniform.”
Few players have ever contributed as much to USA Baseball as Colon, who first donned the stars and stripes for the 16-and-under national team in 2005 and has played for three other national teams since. Colon was the lone returnee from the undefeated 2008 collegiate team. That wealth of experience, along with the respect Colon commanded in the USA dugout, prompted coach Rick Jones to name Colon the team’s captain this summer.
“Four different times he’s worn this uniform, and he’s such a great leader that I felt like we needed to have him in that captain role,” Jones said. “And he did a great job with it.”
Just a minute or two into a conversation with Colon, it’s clear why he’s such a good leader. He speaks confidently and thoughtfully, and he comes across as instantly likable.
“He has a bubbly personality right out of the gate,” Fullerton coach Dave Serrano said. “Everyone who comes in contact with him walks away with nothing but great things to say about him. I’m very proud of the way he carries himself on the field as well as off the field.”
Colon’s on-field demeanor jumped out to Serrano the first time he saw the shortstop play, at UC Irine’s Anteater Ballpark when Colon was in high school but committed to Fullerton.
“The thing that we noticed from Day One of being around him is that he just has that look right when you see him on the field,” Serrano said. “He has that look of a professional shortstop, a pro infielder, with his mannerisms, he just has that aura—he is in control of what’s going on. We noticed that right away. We even noticed that when we were still the coaching staff at Irvine, and he came on the field for a Connie Mack game at our field, and we said, ‘Oh my God, we have to compete against that guy for three years.’ “
Perhaps Colon looks so much like a baseball player because he has been around the game his whole life. Colon attributes his instincts to his upbringing in Puerto Rico, where he started playing at age 4. His father, Elfrin, spent countless hours with Colon at the field, teaching him the subtleties of baseball.
By the time Colon moved to the United States, he was advanced far beyond other players his age.
“Being down in Puerto Rico, it’s a great place to start, because the competition that’s down there is amazing,” Colon said. “When I came here to the States, it was like, ‘This guy’s really good from an early age.’ I was just developed over there.”
Colon started his prep career in Texas, earning all-state honors for Waco’s Midway High as a freshman. When his father, who works in the pharmaceutical industry, got a new job in Utah, Colon earned all-state honors again as a sophomore at Taylorsville High in West Jordan, Utah. The family relocated again a year later, and Colon starred at Canyon High in Anaheim alongside future first-round pick Grant Green (who played shortstop as a senior while Colon played second base as a junior). In 2006, Colon earned MVP honors at the prestigious Aflac All-American High School Baseball Classic, and the Padres drafted him in the 10th round in 2007.
But despite all his prep accomplishments, scouts thought Colon was a little short on tools, and he headed to Fullerton, where he has developed into one of the nation’s best players, though his speed, range and arm all rate as just average, at best. But Colon has always played above his tools, and he has worked hard on his hitting, which now projects as a plus tool.
He adjusted his offensive approach this summer, making a concerted effort to be more aggressive early in the count and choking up on the bat a bit in order to improve his bat speed and bat control. He took to the change well, and the proof is in the numbers.
But Colon’s summer was cut short in Team USA’s penultimate game against Canada. Colon was covering second base on a bunt to third, and he received the throw in plenty of time to get the out and fire a relay to first. But the runner slid hard and late, colliding with Colon’s shin. Colon suffered breaks in his fibia and tibia, forcing him to miss the title game of the World Baseball Challenge two days later.
Both breaks were clean, and Colon was already walking around 15 days after the surgery, albeit with a limp. He is expected to make a full recovery well before the start of the 2010 season, but he will likely miss all of fall ball.
During his downtime since the injury, Colon has largely been confined to the couch. Leave it to Colon to find the silver lining in that fate.
“Now that I’m just sitting here waiting for this bone to heal, I’m just watching baseball all day,” he said. “I look at their at-bats, their pitches, the way they throw to home, whether they use a slidestep or not—just trying to pick up some stuff. It’s just love for the game.”
Even watching baseball on TV comes naturally to Colon.