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What To Expect: Chris Colton

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If you’ve seen Chris Colton play on a consistent basis, you’re probably frustrated. He doesn’t make mistakes or anything like that, but you recognize that he has a wide array of tools but he’s stuck in independent ball, a level on which he still has been unable to put all those tools together to become the player it seems like he can be.

In 2008, Colton was Wichita’s Opening Day center fielder, and if memory serves me correctly, he got the first hit in team history. Watching Colton early in his Wichita career, I had to wonder why he’s on this level. He has great speed, he plays great defense, and he can hit the ball a long way.

But he never moved beyond advanced Class A ball in the Seattle Mariners organization before the team let him go following the 2007 season. It’s tough to figure why the Mariners didn’t give Colton a chance to prove himself on a higher level because he had some good seasons in Class A. But maybe they felt the same way as many others do who watch Colton. Maybe they were frustrated because he wasn’t reaching his potential.

Colton doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses, though his plate discipline could improve. Before last season, when he drew 60 walks in the Frontier League, Colton had always been a little too eager at the plate. I remember instances in 2008 in which he would swing early in the count when the best approach seemed to be making the pitcher work.

But Colton may have turned the corner in that department in his year away from Wichita. As I said, he drew 60 walks while striking out just 59 times. Colton also hit a career-high 18 home runs, a number that can be taken with a grain of salt because it came in an inferior league. But Colton had just eight doubles and no triples, despite his speed, while batting .249. He set a career high with 34 steals.

With the retirement of Nick Blasi, the Wingnuts made a smart decision by bringing back Colton, 27, to man center field. Regardless of his performance at the plate, he’ll save runs by running balls down in the outfield; his first step is as good as any I’ve seen and he makes good reads and takes good routes.

It’s difficult not to root for Colton to succeed. He’s a nice guy, and I gravitate to him for interviews even though he isn’t necessarily the best quote in the business. I just like talking to him. Hopefully for Colton, this season he takes another step toward reaching his potential. I’d like to see him get back to affiliated ball, and this season is important in regards to the possibility of reaching that goal.

Season projection: 396 at-bats, 102 hits, .257 average, 11 home runs, 42 RBIs, 20 doubles, 3 triples, .407 slugging percentage, 33 walks, 2 HBP, .318 on-base percentage, 21 steals, 45 runs.