Lou Collier has never really gotten a chance to be an everyday player for any length of time. His is a story of perseverance. Collier’s story is also one of a player running out of time to get his real shot at being a major league player. At age 31, Collier’s prime may have passed, but he still believes there’s a place for him on a major league roster.
Lou Collier was never a blue-chip prospect. He has had to scratch and claw for all he has achieved through his baseball career. Drafted by the Pirates in the 31st round of the 1992 draft out of tiny Triton College, Collier had a lot to learn. He learned quickly, though. The Pirates moved Collier through the minors at a quick pace and thought more and more of him as he showed what he could do in the minor league ranks. After hitting .330 at AAA Calgary in 1997, Pittsburgh brought their prospect to the majors for a look.
The early days of Collier’s major league career didn’t go well. Collier had just 37 at bats in his first shot with Pittsburgh and hit just .135 in ’97. Since then, the story has been much the same; Start the year in the minors, put up huge numbers and wait either for an injury or the September roster expansions and then come back to the majors. That history, along with the fact that Collier is a career .239 hitter in the majors has branded the 31 year old as a “quad-A” type player. A guy who has enough talent to make him look like an all-star at AAA, but a weak link as a major league player.
In his first season with the Phillies organization, Collier followed the script. Hitting .238 in spring training, the Phillies sent Collier to AAA Scranton, the sixth different AAA city of his career. From day one, Collier became a major part of the Red Barons’ offense and finished the season hitting .326 in the International League. Again, the script continued when Pat Burrell went on the DL and the Phillies purchased Collier’s contract.
“You know that injuries are going to happen and I don’t wish them on anybody, but my job is to be ready to help if someone goes down,” said Collier. When he arrived in Philadelphia, Jason Michaels had been inserted as Burrell’s replacement and Collier was riding the bench. Collier saw a few at bats here and there and Burrell surprisingly returned from his wrist injury that initially was thought to have ended his season. Now, Collier was pushed further down the bench and to make things worse, injured his foot, causing him to miss some opportunities.
While he’s with the Phillies on a one-year deal, Collier wouldn’t rule out coming back next season. “I’ve enjoyed myself this season. I had a good year, so that helps make it fun and the Phillies have been pretty good to me. I would consider coming back,” admits Collier. Still, as he does almost every winter, Collier will likely go in search of a better opportunity with a true shot at making a major league roster. “I think I could help a club. Actually, I still believe that I could be a decent everyday player. I’m not saying I would be an all-star or anything, but I think I would be okay.”
The Phillies would likely want to have Collier back, but there wouldn’t be any guarantees about playing in the majors. In fact, it’s more likely that they’ll officially release him to take him off the 40 man roster at the end of the season, clearing a spot for another player that they may need to protect in the Rule Five Draft. Still, the option of coming back on another one-year, minor league contract with an invitation to spring training might be extended to Collier.
“Lou is one of those guys that a AAA manager – or any manager for that matter – loves to have around,” said Scranton manager Marc Bombard. “He plays hard and you never have to worry about him. He’s good in the clubhouse and young players can learn a lot from him.”
Unfortunately for Collier, he really does have the reputation as being one of those AAAA players. Organizations like to have him around because he can help them at the AAA level, but he is really only a major leaguer out of necessity, not out of the belief that he will add too much to your ball club. He’s also one of those guys that would be interesting to see get a shot at legitimate playing time. He can play anywhere in the outfield and can also play at first base and third base. While flexibility is on his side, age and reputation aren’t. For that reason, Collier will likely continue to follow the script that has been written for him, just waiting for a shot at a bigger part with a major league club.