Colla's solid season in Double-A, AFL, comes to a close

The 2011 season has been kind of a crazy one for right-hander Mike Colla. It all started when the 24-year-old jumped into the Altoona Curve’s starting rotation. It marked the first time in his professional career that he was a starter. Not since being drafted out of Arizona State University in 2008 by Pittsburgh had Colla been used as anything other than a reliever.

“It’s kinda been just crazy,” Colla said. “I jumped back in the starting rotation and I’m pretty pleased with how I handled it. I had a lot of help from guys that had previously been starting.”

Colla acknowledged lefty Jeff Locke, who made his Major League debut with the Pirates in September, and  Curve teammate Aaron Pribanic as players who helped him this year. Curve’s pitching coach Wally Whitehurst also helped him a lot this season as well. Whitehurst was both a starter and reliever in the big leagues.

“I talked a lot to those guys and they helped me out a lot with the adjustment and how to handle it,” he said.

Handled it he did.

Colla sported a 5-11 record with a 3.70 ERA with Double-A Altoona this season. Colla’s 3.70 ERA ranked ninth in the Eastern League. He finished fifth in the league with a 1.17 WHIP and third in batting average against among starters (.226). Colla also ranked fourth in the Pirates minor league system in strikeouts with 109.

But Colla’s season, in which he was named the Curve’s unsung hero, didn’t end there. He was one of seven prospects that represented the Pirates in the Arizona Fall League this off-season. The league features the best prospects in the minors from all 30 Major League clubs.

“The talent is pretty incredible,” Colla said of the experience. “You’re talking about, not only first-round rounder’s, but top prospects in each organization that are out here. It’s actually, not to say overwhelming, but it’s an honor to be chosen by the Pirates, to be able to come out here and do this and compete against guys you’ll hopefully face in the big leagues from years to come.”

Over 11 outings, Colla has allowed seven earned runs on 10 hits over 15.0 innings in relief (4.20 ERA). He walked 10 and struck out 10 while picking up two saves for the Mesa Solar Sox.

Overall, Colla said he was happy with his performance in Arizona.

“The statistics in terms of the ERA and the walks [are] not obviously up to what I’d like to do,“ Colla said. “If you look back, I had 11 outings and all of them were pretty good except for two. But other than that, I’ve felt pretty good with what I’ve done.”

In those two appearances that Colla noted, he allowed six earned runs on four hits with five walks over 2.0 innings. However, Colla did make seven scoreless appearances in relief for Mesa, including four of them hitless frames.

The AFL season may end on Thursday, but Colla’s fate in the Pirates organization could be in jeopardy. Colla is first-time Rule 5 eligible this year. In order to be protected from another Major League organization from drafting him, Colla must be added to the Bucs 40-man roster by Friday. The decision, however, is not in his control but it is something that he said he is on his mind.

“More so now than it had been the entire year,” Colla said. “Obviously you’re conscious of it. It’s kind of like the ‘wonder if’. But it’s out of my control. Hopefully I’ve done enough to put myself on that list. [I’ve looked] at that list of guys that are first-year eligible and also second year eligible. It’s a good group of guys. Anything can happen. As of right now, I’m trying not to concern myself too, too much with it.”

Colla’s long season finally comes to a close after the Solar Sox play their final game tomorrow. After leaving Arizona, Colla will head back to his hometown of Fresno, California where he will enjoy some much deserved time off before getting ready for the 2012 season. Richie White, who is the Curve’s strengthening coach, and Colla are from the same hometown and they plan on starting off-season workouts together in December. From there, Colla will start throwing before the end of the year to gear up for spring training, where hopefully his 2011 season earned an invite to big league camp.

Photo credit: Brendan Baseball Blog

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