When Twins outfielder Oswaldo Arcia needed a translator to help with an interview earlier this month, he didn’t turn to Bobby Cuellar, Minnesota’s bullpen coach who is fluent in both Spanish and English.
The duty fell to Chris Colabello.
As it turns out, Colabello is trilingual. The Twins rookie is fluent in English and Italian and is “close” to being fluent in Spanish. The first two languages came naturally to him as a kid; his mother, who grew up in Italy, spoke Italian to Colabello while his father spoke English at home. The Spanish? That came via four years of the language in high school and another at Assumption College in Massachusetts. Already knowing Italian helped him pick up the similarities of Spanish quickly.
When he got to pro baseball, though, Colabello realized his Spanish wasn’t quite as good as he initially thought. He’d have to slow teammates down to fully understand what they were saying. Over time, he picked up more and more to the point where he can now have full conversations with his Latin teammates — and even serve as their translators.
“I always thought of myself as a master facilitator, I guess,” Colabello said. “Whatever I can do to help people around me to make their lives easier, whether it be on the baseball field or in life.”
A first baseman by trade, the 29-year-old Colabello has recently spent time in right field for the Twins. It’s not a position he played much in the minors — just 14 games in right field and another 10 in left field in nine minor league seasons. But as was the case for learning Spanish, playing the outfield slowly started to come a bit more naturally.
With Justin Morneau at first base, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has put Colabello in right field or as the designated hitter in order to get his bat in the lineup. He’s now played in the outfield more than he’s played first base this season.
“I don’t know if you can turn him into a total right fielder, but he works hard enough that he can make himself serviceable,” Gardenhire said. “He’s actually done pretty decent out there. I like to see him get some swings. I just wanted to see him get some swings. … We’re trying to find ways to get him in. My preference would be first base or DH. But just to get him out there and let him play some, he’s OK.”
Before being sent down last week, Colabello put in extra work during batting practice with first base coach Scott Ullger, who hits ground balls and fly balls to Colabello in right field as he works on reading the ball off the bat. There’s also the issue of learning how to play the ball off the wall, which varies from park to park.
When asked about his comfort level in the outfield, Colabello ranked himself as a seven on a scale of one to 10, noting that it’s a daily improvement.
“Over time and repetition you adapt to the fact that you don’t really have to think about what you’re doing,” Colabello said. “You let your body’s reactions take over. I would say there’s still a lot of thought that goes into what I’m doing, processing information, how we’re playing guys, reading balls off the bat, knowing what I’m going to do with the baseball if it comes out there.”
The swing is still a work in progress for Colabello, too. He tore the cover off the ball at Triple-A Rochester, batting .354 with 24 home runs and 76 RBI in 85 games. Colabello is still adjusting to major league pitching, but has shown a bit of pop in his bat.
Gardenhire calls Colabello’s approach at the plate an unorthodox one. The right-handed Colabello stands far off the plate and tends to drive the ball to the opposite field. It’s rare that he’ll pull a ball to left field.
That approach worked in Rochester, though, and the Twins have confidence that Colabello will be able to hit at this level too.
“He check swings more than any hitter I’ve seen, and that means he’s getting everything started really quick,” Gardenhire said. “It’s a process. I haven’t had the opportunity to sit and watch him for as many at-bats as the guys down there (in Rochester), so I’m seeing this all for the first time. …
“We’re getting a good look at him. I like it when he walks up there. I feel like he’s going to do some damage. I feel like he can hit a ball a long ways.”