Looking back on Christian Colon’s peculiar Royals career (“Royals Hall of Not Forgotten”)

In a bit of minor Kansas City Royals news, the former Royals middle infielder, Christian Colon, announced his retirement from baseball, which was reported on Twitter:

As a Royals fan who grew up in California, and actually had an uncle who went to Cal State Fullerton (Colon’s alma mater), the 32-year-old Puerto Rican infielder has always been a player of interest to me, even before he made his Royals debut during the 2014 season. Back when I ran a San Francisco Giants blog (“Remember ’51”), I wrote a post examining Colon prior to the MLB Draft in 2010, as I explored whether or not the Giants should select him if available.

Here’s a bit I wrote about Colon in the piece:

Colon has been an absolute stud this year for the Titans, adding a lot of power to his numbers this year. After hitting 12 gome runs combined his freshman and sophomore years, he has belted 14 home runs and driven in 58 RBI. Furthermore, his .606 slugging percentage is almost 80 points higher than his .529 slugging his sophomore year (which was already impressive for a shortstop)…

Defensively, Colon is very athletic and can make plays. Apparently, Colon can play either second or shortstop, but according to James, “looks very comfortable” at shortstop. There are some concerns with Colon’s defense though. Colon has made 13 errors this year and has a fielding percentage of .952. Not necessarily bad, but not necessarily outstanding either.

Colon isn’t a big guy (six-foot, 180 pound frame) and there is some question about his upside. At 21 years of age by draft time, many scouts don’t project his ceiling to be as high as many other shortstops in this draft. Furthermore, his huge power jump this year suggests more of a peak rather than a sign of things to come at the professional level.

That being said, despite the questions about his ceiling, Colon is an enticing prospect and the Giants could benefit from the addition of the Titans shortstop. While Crawford is looking good at Double-A, and Adrianza and Noonan have a lot of upside, Colon could be a one of those guys who could have an immediate (if limited) impact in the Giants organization within three to four years.

“Giants 2010 Draft Prospect Spotlight: Shortstops Christian Colon and Yordy Cabrera” by Kevin O’Brien; Remember ’51

In addition to writing the report, I also was able to share some video of Colon in the post, which shows Colon lacing a double to straightaway center field against the UCLA Bruins back in 2009:

The Giants had the 24th pick in that draft, and Colon didn’t fall anywhere close to San Francisco in that draft, as Dayton Moore and the Royals picked up Colon at fourth overall. (The Giants ended up selecting outfielder Gary Brown, who played with Colon at Fullerton.)

For his career, Colon produced a bWAR of 1.1 and an fWAR of 0.6 at the Major League level across 161 games with the Royals, Marlins, and Reds. Without a doubt, Colon has a complicated legacy in Kansas City, especially given his Top-Five draft status. To some fans, the former middle infielder is an example of wasted potential, another Royals first-round pick, like Bubba Starling and Ashe Russell, who failed to live up to his high draft status.

On the other hand, Colon was part of two of the biggest moments in the Royals’ postseason history. He scored the game-winning run in the AL Wild Card game against the Oakland Athletics at Kauffman Stadium in 2014:

Furthermore, he also produced the go-ahead RBI in the top of the 12th against the New York Mets in the clinching game of the 2015 World Series:

Thus, with Colon officially hanging up the cleats (he played the entirety of 2021 with the Blue Jays’ Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo), let’s take a look at Colon’s legacy with the Royals, and what Royals fans will remember about him going forward.

As with any draft pick who fails to live up to his hype (especially Royals draft pick), it is really common for people to focus on who a team “didn’t” draft and was selected after their respective pick. Patrick Brennan, formerly of Royals Farm Report, definitely brought up some interesting names whom the Royals passed on in the 2010 MLB Draft in favor of Colon.

In all honesty, when it comes to the MLB Draft, hindsight is always 20/20, but it doesn’t always capture the context of what the club needed at that time.

That respective draft was pretty much a three-player draft, as Bryce Harper was the consensus No. 1, and Manny Machado and Jameson Taillon were the consensus No. 2 or 3 players, depending on the mock draft. After those three, however, there were a lot of question marks about the talent in the first round, and of course, the Royals that year had the fourth pick of this polarizing draft.

Both Bleacher Report and Baseball Prospectus felt that Chris Sale would be picked up by the Royals in the fourth spot.

Here is what Prospectus said in regard to Sale going in the four-slot in this draft:

It’s a rare year when the top three talents in the draft actually go with the first three picks, and that leaves the Royals with the first tough decision. Nearly all of their focus has been on college talent, and it could come down to a coin flip between Chris Sale and Drew Pomeranz. Sale has the edge on both of performance and scouting level, and his May 1 start against Clemson, when he struck out 10 over eight innings while giving up just four hits, eliminated concerns about his level of competition. This could go either way, still.

“Future Shock: Mock Draft 2010” by Kevin Goldstein; Baseball Prospectus

That being said, while Sale has produced the highest bWAR of any first-round pick in that respective draft, concerns about his pitching delivery, and his status coming from a small college in Florida Gulf Coast, made some teams, including the Royals, cautious about drafting him in the Top-10 (he ended up going 13th overall to the White Sox). Plus, at the time, it seemed like the Royals were pretty set in their pitching corps in their farm system, as the Royals at the time had highly touted pitching prospects such as Mike Montgomery, Chris Dwyer, John Lamb, and Danny Duffy as Top-10 prospects in their system.

In all honesty, the Royals valued position player help, especially in the middle infield, for in 2010, they didn’t really have a top middle infield prospect in their system. Though Colon was a high floor, low ceiling kind of player, he appeared to be the kind of guy who could move through the Royals system quickly and at the very least have a utility role off the bench in the future.

Now as for Grandal and Yelich as possible options? Well, Grandal was a Top-10 talent, but many clubs were worried about his high price tag. Remember, this was a David Glass-owned Royals team prior to the 2014 and 2015 seasons, and Grandal signed for only $750k less, despite being selected eight picks after Colon. It is likely that Grandal’s bonus demands probably scared off the Royals, and with Wil Myers and Salvador Perez already in the system, I’m guessing Moore and the Royals didn’t feel like they needed to take such a risk at a position that wasn’t a need for the organization at the time.

As for Yelich, he was not on many prospect experts’ mock drafts in the first round, as neither Bleacher Report nor Baseball Prospectus predicted he’d be drafted in the first round. Thus, to say the Royals should’ve drafted Yelich is pretty wishful thinking, as many people thought Yelich was a reach at the time at 23rd overall.

Considering how much the Royals value pitching now, I think if they had to do it over, they would have gone with Sale or at least Drew Pomeranz, who was also getting some Top-Five pick hype as a pretty polished pitcher out of the University of Mississippi. While the Sale miss was disappointing when looking back on that draft, the Royals weren’t the only ones who passed, as eight other teams had the shot to realistically draft him after the Royals selected Colon.

Though Colon was never an “elite” prospect by any means in the Royals system, it was expected that he could produce at the Major League level. From 2011 to 2013, Colon rated as the Royals’ 6th, 11th, and 13th best prospect each season, respectively, according to Baseball America. Furthermore, his numbers backed up his rankings somewhat, as he produced solid, though unspectacular numbers on an offensive end in the Minor Leagues.

In 60 games in 2010 with Wilmington, he hit .278 and posted a 95 wRC+ in 271 plate appearances with the High-A Blue Rocks. In 2011, he only hit .257 and posted an 80 wRC+ in 568 plate appearances with the Double-A Naturals, but he only struck out nine percent of the time and produced a BB/K ratio of 0.90.

The following season, he not only improved his BB/K ratio to 1.15 with the Naturals, but he also improved his batting average and wRC+ to .289 and 115, respectively. His solid 73-game performance in Northwest Arkansas earned him a late-season callup to Triple-A Omaha, and he made the most of his appearance with the Storm Chasers, as he produced a 163 wRC+ in five games.

There was some hope that Colon could perhaps earn the Royals starting second base job at some point in 2013, especially with the incumbent at the Major League level being the light-hitting Chris Getz. The shortstop position was out of reach, for not only had Colon failed to demonstrate athleticism and tools to handle the position at the Major League level, but the Royals also acquired Alcides Escobar from the Brewers prior to the 2011 season in the Zack Greinke trade. Considering Escobar’s status as a top prospect in the Brewers system, it seemed likely that Colon’s path to the Major League level would be at the keystone in 2013 and beyond.

Unfortunately, Colon didn’t really impress in Omaha to earn himself a callup during the Royals’ 83-73 campaign. With the Storm Chasers, the 24-year-old at the time only produced a 90 wRC+ in 131 games and 577 plate appearances. Granted, Colon once again showed great plate discipline, as he struck out less than 10 percent of the time, and generated a BB/K ratio of 0.72, both sterling marks. However, despite hitting for a decent average, he showed little, if any, power in Omaha, not necessarily encouraging considering Triple-A’s hitter-friendly environments. In 2013, he only posted an ISO of .105, despite hitting .273 for the year.

The lack of power, as well as underwhelming defensive tools, prompted the Royals to look outside the organization to improve at second base, and they did so in the offseason with their acquisition of Omar Infante in free agency. While Colon did well at the Majors in limited stints in 2014 and 2015 (143 and 95 wRC+, respectively), Infante blocked him at the Major League level in 2014, and in 2015, Ben Zobrist did the same, though Colon earned a bench role down the stretch, and in the postseason, which allowed him to generate his “postseason hero” moment in Game 5 of the World Series:

After the World Series win, Zobrist expectedly signed elsewhere (the Chicago Cubs, specifically), and Colon had another shot to earn the starting job at second base in 2016. However, Colon only hit .231 and posted a 59 wRC+ in 54 games, and he eventually lost out to Whit Merrifield, who hit .283 and posted a 91 wRC+ in 81 games in 2016.

By 2017, Whit’s speed and power advantage over Colon made the 2010 first-round pick expendable, and he was designated for assignment after seven games with the Royals in 2017, which ended his tenure in the Kansas City organization.

After playing in 17 games with the Marlins in 2017, Colon played the entire 2018 season in Triple-A, playing in both Gwinett (Braves organization) and Louisville (Reds organization). While he did get cups of coffee with the Reds in 2019 (eight games) and 2020 (11 games), Colon failed to do much, as he generated a -0.1 fWAR over two seasons with the Reds. Colon nearly played for the Kansas City Monarchs in 2021, but he was picked up by the Blue Jays organization late in Spring Training, and played in 100 games for Buffalo, posting a .773 OPS, which included 15 home runs in what would be his final season in professional baseball at age 32.

There’s no question Colon failed to live up to his first-round hype. That being said, Colon still did “something” at the Major League level, which can’t necessarily be said for everyone in his draft class.

Cardinals draft choice Zach Cox, who was seen as the most “polished” player in the draft at the time, failed to make it to the Major Leagues. High-upside talents like the Athletics’ Michael Choice, the Giants’ Brown, and the Rockies’ Kyle Parker combined for a career bWAR lower than Colon’s.

Yes, one could consider Colon a “bust” of sorts. But he wasn’t a “complete” bust, unlike other stories in his draft class or even other Royals picks who failed to live up to expectations (i.e. Starling and Russell). Pitcher Zach Lee for the Dodgers had the third-highest signing bonus that draft (nearly double Colon’s amount) and only generated a career bWAR of -0.3.

Furthermore, it’s Colon who has generated some of the biggest playoff moments of anyone in the draft class, and that is including Sale, Yelich, and Grandal.

That’s what makes Colon’s tenure with the Royals so complicated. Would the Royals have won a 2014 pennant or 2015 World Series title if they hadn’t drafted Colon? Perhaps, but it’s hard to say for sure. Could Cheslor Cuthbert have come up with that big hit in 2015? Would the Royals’ have called up Whit sooner?

As they say, everything happens for a reason…

And though Colon’s Royals tenure was limited and relatively unproductive in the grand scheme of things, he did contribute to two key moments in Royals playoff history.

He’ll forever be remembered in Kansas City for that…

Maybe that’s good enough for a career, even for a former fourth-overall pick.

Photo Credit: Peter Aiken/USA Today Sports

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