Minor League Report: Roman Colon

Minor League Report: Roman Colon

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- When Roman Colon was a kid, he spent more time milking cows than playing baseball.

As the youngest child of a large family in the Dominican Republic town of Monte Cristi, he kept busy working on his father's farm.

"Me and two other guys would have to milk 36 or 40 cows in the morning before I went to school," Colon said. "We used to wake up around 4:30 in the morning, milk the cows, bring the milk to the house, take a shower, go to school and after school, come home, eat something and start working on the farm."

The 6-6 pitcher peeled back his shirt sleeve over bulging muscles.

"Where do you think I got these forearms from?" he said.

Colon didn't play on an amateur team in the Dominican, but he sometimes played with his buddies for fun. Word soon got around that he had a strong arm and Rene Francisco, then scouting for the Atlanta Braves, was tipped off by a friend.

"His dad is an older gentleman, but he's very strong," Francisco said. "He's built like his dad."

Francisco brought the 15-year-old Colon to Santo Domingo and schooled him in a workout regimen for two weeks, then sent him home to keep practicing.

Colon signed on Aug. 14, 1995, the day after his 16th birthday. He worked his way up the ladder and surfaced with Atlanta in 2004-05. He pitched in 41 games for the Braves in those two seasons, then was dealt to the Detroit Tigers for whom he pitched in 32 games in 2005-06.

"He's a hard thrower, good down angle, late-breaking slider," said Royals general manager Dayton Moore.

He's also had some medical issues. He got through Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery that cost him the 2000 season. In 2006, he had to undergo neck surgery for a herniated disk. Part of the procedure was implanting bone from a bone bank and inserting four screws.

"It was serious; at the beginning, they were talking about me not playing baseball anymore," Colon said.

But Colon wouldn't hear of it.

"No, you never do that," he said. "I've never been a quitter."

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While rehabbing last season with the Toledo Mud Hens, he had a clubhouse fight with a teammate and Colon was suspended and charged with assault.

"Everything is straightened up right now," Colon said. "I'm glad everything is behind me and I've got my career back and I can still play baseball. People don't really know what happened, but one day they will know."

Despite that incident, Moore and Francisco, both of whom came to the Royals from the Braves, remembered Colon's talents and obtained him from the Tigers.

"From the time I met him when he was 16 or 17, he had a lot of natural leadership skills, and the Latin players looked up to him and a lot of the American players respected him, so he's always had a good way about him," Moore said.

After last July's trade, Colon pitched in just one game for Triple-A Omaha before being stopped by elbow pain. He underwent surgery for removal of bone chips in September and is now working his way back in the Royals' Major League camp. He's expected to be ready to pitch by May and likely will be assigned to Omaha.

At 27, Colon is determined to make it back to the Majors. He wants to make life comfortable for his parents in the Dominican. His 75-year-old father has retired from growing bananas, tobacco, beans, corn and sweet potatoes on the farm.

"I built them a house in the little town where I grew up in, Monte Cristi. He fixed everything in the backyard so he can have like a little farm to enjoy," Colon said.

There's a new concern because his mother, Ramona, was recently diagnosed with bone cancer.

"I want to be there with her and support her, but somebody's got to go to work. Every day over here, I'm working my butt off so I can support them," Colon said.

At least his mother has others to look after her in the Dominican. Roman was the youngest of nine children.

"We had the whole team," he said with a smile.

Class of '07: The fourth-round Draft choice from last June's First-Year Player Draft is listed as Peter Hodge Nielsen. Actually, according to the Royals, his full name is Peter Mitchell Hodge Nielsen. But don't be confused. In the spring camp, he's just plain Mitch Hodge.

Hodge, 18, is a right-handed pitcher from Prince of Wales Secondary School in Vancouver, B.C.

"He's a good-sized kid; good body, big fastball," said J.J. Picollo, director of player development. "Command was a little erratic last year at times, but he's refining his delivery. He's made strides with it and, being from Canada, we've got to take our time with him. He's going to be a slow developer, but even with that said, he's picked up some things where his delivery is more consistent."

Hodge probably will stay in Arizona for extended Spring Training and likely will pitch for a rookie club at Burlington, N.C., or Idaho Falls. Last summer, he was 1-6 with a 4.24 ERA in 12 games for the Surprise Royals.

"He's the kind of kid we've been trying to sign: Big, strong, physical, no rush to get him moving through the system," Picollo said. "It'll take time, but he'll be a power arm."

They're No. 1: With the re-assigning of outfielder Chris Lubanski and first baseman Mike Stodolka to the Minor League camp, the list of Royals' first-round picks in the Major League camp was reduced to a still-impressive five: Zack Greinke, Mitch Maier, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon and Luke Hochevar.

What they're saying: "I loved it. Anywhere I can get a chance to play is great for me. I love being in the lineup."
-- Mike Aviles, 2007 Minor League Player of the Year on switching from third base to second base

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.