For better or for worse, the White Sox have established a theme of expecting the unexpected in the outfield over the past few years.
No one thought Adam Eaton would be back for another go-round. No one thought Andrew Vaughn would be pushed into outfield duty. Twice. And no one thought AJ Pollock would turn down a guaranteed $13 million.
But you can add it to the list with Pollock declining his player option to stay with the White Sox for the 2023 season. It’s a surprise move after Pollock’s first season as a below-average hitter since he only played a dozen games in 2016 and his first ever below-average offensive output in a season in which he played more than 31 games.
Maybe Pollock – who underwhelmed after being acquired in a springtime trade for another underachiever with a strong track record in Craig Kimbrel – is counting on his history of swinging a much better bat to earn him more than the $8 million it would require for him to match, after a $5 million buyout, what he would have made staying on the South Side. There are good second-half home-run numbers and a .935 OPS against lefties that his agent can use in trying to find him a new, high-paying gig.
Meanwhile, the White Sox are left with an unexpected vacancy in the outfield. Pollock might have been heading toward little more than a role as an expensive half of a platoon in one of the corner spots, with left and right field being two of the small number of positions on the field Rick Hahn could explore change with relative ease.
But there Hahn was Tuesday in Las Vegas, talking to reporters about a guy already in his team’s employ who could step into one of those corner-outfield spots next season.
Colás isn’t exactly coming out of nowhere here. Plenty of fans have been asking about his readiness for months, and in typical fan fashion, there were those wondering if he could vault to the majors before the end of the 2022 campaign and help the White Sox avoid the disappointing .500 record they finished with.
Colás put up terrific offensive numbers playing at three different minor league levels last season, numbers that only got better as he advanced. After posting a .312/.369/.475 slash line in 59 games at Class A Winston-Salem, he mashed tougher pitching with Double-A Birmingham, hitting 14 homers in 51 games to go along with a .306/.364/.563 line. In a handful of games with Triple-A Charlotte at season’s end, he had a 1.069 OPS in 33 trips to the plate.
That’s all very good. It’s the power and left-handed hitting that rank high on the White Sox’ list of needs this winter. But is it enough?
Yes, Colás’ history as a professional in Japan means he’s not your typical prospect, and that experience has been cited as having the potential to make him a quick mover since he signed with the White Sox as one of the top-rated international free agents in his class.
But the White Sox’ approach to their top prospects since at least the start of Hahn’s rebuilding project is worth remembering. Fans were pulling their hair out screaming “HE’S READY” when Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert were developing in the minor leagues. And those guys were much more highly rated than Colás, the two current big leaguers then ranked among the two or three best prospects in the game. Colás, meanwhile, is the No. 95 prospect on MLB.com’s most recent top-100 list.
That alone doesn’t mean he’s not ready for primetime. But there’s a difference between Colás and guys like Jiménez and Robert, who were given ample time to prove themselves ready for the bigs. It was during their matriculations through the system that Hahn repeated the same refrain over and over, that major league need is not a determining factor in when the organization decides to promote a prospect.
Assistant GM and farm boss Chris Getz was hesitant to put a specific on Colás’ arrival time when he talked about the prospect in August.
“Now that he’s been up at Double-A, it’s been very supportive to what I was hearing about and what I witnessed in Winston-Salem,” Getz said prior to Colás’ promotion to Charlotte. “He’s continuing to get better. He’s putting together quality at-bats. He’s hitting for power. He’s playing good defense. There’s still some things that we’re working on with pitch recognition. But for the most part, this is a player that has a chance to be a pretty productive major league player. He’s going to be an exciting piece of this organization moving forward.
“I think (he could reach the majors in 2023). Unclear on the timing of something like that, but he’s shown us that he’s got the skills to impact the game in a lot of ways and it continues to get better throughout the season. It’s certainly a great indication of being able to make quick adjustments and take on challenges.”
Colás was likely going to be a focus in spring training next year even with Pollock on the roster, but it was a question of whether seven games at Triple-A were enough for the White Sox to determine him worthy of a promotion. Pollock’s surprise departure shouldn’t make those questions go away.
Of course, as he always does, Hahn was just listing one possibility, and it’s become an annual tradition of sorts that when asked about an open job he lists all the internal options before acknowledging that the team could also look outside the organization.
Here’s Hahn at the 2021 GM meetings on last winter’s second-base vacancy in the wake of the departures of Nick Madrigal and Cesar Hernandez:
“We have potential internal options in Danny Mendick and Romy Gonzalez. That said, we’re going to survey that market, trade or free-agent, and see if there is a way to get better. We haven’t closed the door on perhaps bringing back Cesar at some point. Leury (Garcia) got some starts down the stretch. He’s a free agent (who) we continue to have contact with, and we’ll see what the next couple weeks or months hold.”
That was replicated this time around, by the way, after the team declined its 2023 option on Josh Harrison on Monday.
So Hahn bringing up Colás as an option in the outfield doesn’t equal 150 starts there in 2023. For what it’s worth, Colás played more center field in 2022 than he did right field. But he figures to one day be the White Sox’ right fielder, with Robert owning a Gold Glove in center. If Colás is being eyed as the potential Opening Day right fielder, someone’s going to have to tell Gavin Sheets. Or more aptly, someone’s going to have to figure out what role Sheets is best suited for – and if that role is perhaps on another team.
Hahn, of course, also pointed to the possibility of finding a new outfielder on the free-agent or trade markets, though according to the reporters who were there, he said the trade market was a more likely place for the White Sox to acquire players than the free-agent market, regardless of position.
But thanks to the GM, we’ve gone from calling Colás a possible fringe candidate to assume an everyday job at the outset of the 2023 season to someone who’s firmly in the mix. If you’re convinced José Abreu is heading elsewhere next season, that Vaughn is destined for first base – which Hahn spoke about Tuesday – and Jiménez is destined to DH, then there are as many as two open everyday jobs in the White Sox’ outfield that need to be filled by Opening Day.
Is Colás ready for one? And more importantly, are the White Sox ready to bank on him being ready in a season where they’ll once more have championship-level aspirations?
What Hahn accomplishes this offseason will answer that question.