Winter Wonders: Strong Finish For Teheran

Julio Teheran is used to having to live up to big expectations.

At 16, Teheran was the top pitcher on the international market, signing with the Braves for $850,000 out of Colombia when he became eligible to sign on July 2, 2007.

Two years later, Teheran ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Rookie-level Appalachian League. After the 2010 season, Teheran became the Braves’ top prospect, a title he’s now held three straight years.

Yet Teheran’s No. 1 ranking in Atlanta’s farm system was hardly a reflection of a pitcher coming off a dominant season. After making his major league debut in 2011 at age 20, Teheran spent almost the entire season in Triple-A Gwinnett, where International League hitters hammered
him for a 5.08 ERA in 131 innings.

His strikeout rate had been on a steady decline, dropping from 10.0 per nine innings between two Class A levels and Double-A Mississippi in 2010, 7.6 per nine in Triple-A in 2011 and 6.7 per nine repeating the league in 2012. While some of that dip is the natural byproduct of facing more advanced hitters, Teheran’s ability to hold the mid-90s velocity he showed earlier in his career wasn’t always there last season.

Teheran did finish the season by posting a 31-6 K-BB mark in 35 innings in August—albeit with a 4.89 ERA—before joining Licey to play winter ball in the Dominican League.

After a shaky start with Licey, Teheran allowed just two hits over 16 2/3 shutout innings in his final three starts, with 15 strikeouts and four walks in that stretch. Licey manager Mike Guerrero was most impressed with Teheran’s ability to spot his stuff to both sides of the plate.

“His fastball command and secondary stuff was outstanding,” Guerrero said. “He was impressive the way he commanded the strike zone, especially establishing his fastball, which made his secondary stuff better. His command of his pitches, the last four to five starts, he was
outstanding. He was ahead in counts, he used a minimal amount of pitches and he was putting away the hitters with less amount of pitches than he needed.”

This winter wasn’t the first time Guerrero had seen Teheran pitch. When Teheran was 19 in 2010, he made his Double-A debut against the Brewers’ Huntsville club, which Guerrero managed. In that game, Teheran gave up five runs and walked six in 4 2/3 innings.

“Where he’s at now, he’s more polished, but obviously his command and the ability to know what he’s doing on the mound stands out pretty big,”
Guerrero said. “Before, you used to see two years ago a kid with great ability. Now you see a kid with great ability but also more polish, with
outstanding command and who knows what he’s doing on the mound. His presence on the mound is outstanding.”

Teheran’s prospect status isn’t what it was at this time one year ago, when he was the No. 5 prospect in baseball and ranked only behind Matt Moore and Japanese professional Yu Darvish among pitching prospects. While it’s hard to say his strong finish in winter ball is a sign of things to come, it was at least an encouraging finish for Teheran after a
difficult 2012.

“His confidence grew up so fast and his mound presence was outstanding,”
Guerrero said. “He knew what he was doing, which way he wanted to attack hitters and he was putting out hitters with a minimum amount of pitches.

“He was pretty impressive. I think he’s probably the best pitcher we had this year, without a doubt.”

—Ben Badler

Quite The Year For Colabello

Just a year ago, Chris Colabello was just hoping to hear the phone ring.

He’d finished off an outstanding season with the Can-Am League’s Worcester Tornadoes, hitting .348 with 20 home runs and 79 RBIs to be named Baseball America’s Independent League Player of the Year. That had
drawn some attention from the Diamondbacks, but as 2012 arrived, Colabello still hadn’t received a contract offer from anyone.


Colabello was a baseball lifer, but one who had never gotten a chance to
see what life in affiliated ball was like. He’d topped .300 in every one of his eight Can-Am League seasons, but the closest he had come to affiliated ball was a spring training with the Tigers, where he was released before Opening Day.

Thankfully for Colabello, the Twins did come calling early in 2012. He signed a minor league deal, earned a spot on the Double-A New Britain roster in spring training and then proceeded to go out and show baseball
what it had been missing.

Colabello hit .284/.358/.478 for New Britain, earning Eastern League all-star honors while drawing raves for his defense at first base. Field
coordinator Joel Lepel even called Colabello the organization’s best defensive infielder, saying, “He gets nifty over there.”

Now that he’s gotten a chance at affiliated ball, it’s clear Colabello didn’t want his magical 2012 season to end. He joined Team Italy (following in his father’s Lou’s footsteps) to help them win the European Cup in October. He then headed down to Guasave for the Mexican Pacific League season.

As impressive as all that has been, Colabello, 29, saved the best for last. He was hitting .332/.399/.644 for Guasave to rank among the league’s top five in batting, home runs (17), extra-base hits (30) and total bases (132). He finished as the league leader in slugging percentage (.644).

“I could have never imagined this a year ago. It’s crazy,” Colabello said. “I’m pretty popular (in Guasave) I guess. I get recognized in the streets a lot, which is neat. They’ve been really good to me.”

As great as Colabello’s winter has become, it didn’t start out that way.
After a hot start, Colabello battled a cold and stomach bug not long after he arrived in Guasave. He bottomed out at .220, leading to a conversation with the club’s general manager. Winter league clubs aren’t
exactly known for their patience at letting rather untested minor leaguers figure things out.

“I thought, ‘They are going to send me home,’ ” Colabello said. “(The GM) asked me, ‘Do you want to go home?’ I told him no. But I told him if
you think you can find someone better, I understand, but I know I can hit. He told me he liked my attitude so let’s see what happens.”

Colabello homered two nights later. He added another home run the next night. Two nights later, he started a streak of five games with a home run, capped off by a two-home run game on Nov. 9. The slump was quickly forgotten, as he turned into one of Guasave’s stars.

Having put in a good two months in Mexico, Colabello had the option of heading home for good—he’s been playing baseball non-stop from February through late December. But the days of being an indy player just hoping for a shot don’t go away just because you’re having some success on a bigger stage. Colabello had spent years just hoping to earn a winter-ball payday. Now that he’s getting to do it, he was hoping to play with Guasave through the Caribbean Series—the club easily qualified
for the Mexican Pacific League playoffs.

From there, he’ll get a little time off before spring training, although
the Guasave club was nice enough to give him a flight home so he could spend Christmas with his family. He was planning to fly back for the playoffs.

As Christmas neared this year, Colabello’s phone rang with an early present. It was Twins general manager Terry Ryan, calling to tell Colabello he’d be invited to big league spring training. Just a year after the thought of getting a shot at minor league spring training seemed almost too much to ask, Colabello will be playing in spring training games with the big league club.

Colabello is ticketed to head to Triple-A Rochester to start the 2013 season. It’s safe to say no one will be more thrilled with the assignment.

“It’s easier to appreciate a 10-hour bus ride to Richmond or early work in July,” Colabello said. “In a lot of ways, I’m thankful to have gotten
the opportunity when I did, because I’m so much more appreciative than I
would have been if I had been drafted as a 21-year-old and headed to Rookie ball.”