We’ve been hearing about Oscar Colás since well before the White Sox made him one of several recent splashy Cuban signings on the international free-agent market.
We’ve been hearing about him as the odds-on favorite to grab the big league club’s starting right-field job since November, when Rick Hahn reminded reporters covering the GM meetings not to forget about the 24-year-old lefty slugger as the White Sox embarked on their offseason work.
That offseason work has not, to this point, included a meaningful addition in right field, meaning that with two weeks before camp opens at Camelback Ranch, it seems the White Sox might have internally crowned Colás as their starting right fielder even before Hahn spoke in November.
Indeed, that’s been the line from new manager Pedro Grifol, too, who told CHGO after Andrew Benintendi was introduced as the team’s new left fielder early last month that Colás is “going to have every opportunity to make this ballclub in spring training.” He told The Score not long after that Colás “is going to be given every opportunity to see if he can become our right fielder on a daily basis.”
So whether or not you agree that the White Sox flunked the offseason, what’s inarguable is that they made no move to prevent Colás from capturing the job in spring training. Perhaps only a monster spring hitting both righties and lefties from Gavin Sheets – whose natural position is at first base, not in right field – is standing in Colás’ way, leaving it all on him to prove he’s ready for primetime.
Reasonably, folks have wondered: Well, is he?
It’s a completely fair question as the White Sox are gearing up for a season of championship-level expectations and seem ready to hand two of their everyday positions in the field to guys who have not racked up much or any major league experience, with Colás in right and Romy Gonzalez leading the pack of internal candidates at second base. While the front office bet heavily on the already in-place core of young players to bounce back after a collectively disappointing 2022 season, it’s also betting significantly on these two, to borrow an oft-used Hahn phrase, not just surviving but thriving at the big league level.
Colás seems best suited to do that. After signing, he was anticipated to be a relatively quick mover through the system, considering his experience playing professionally in the minor leagues in Japan. He has a history as a two-way player, earning the moniker “The Cuban Ohtani” at one point, but the White Sox have focused on his bat, which was outstanding in 2022. He played at three different levels, slashing .314/.371/.524 to go along with 23 homers and 79 RBIs in 117 games.
Considering the White Sox’ team-wide power outage in 2022, Colás’ power potential seems his most valuable potential contribution. But it’s in the field where he could provide the biggest upgrade. The White Sox had defensive improvement high on their offseason to-do list, and they accomplished that with Benintendi in left and seem set to do the same with Colás, who played plenty of center field in the minors and has a much discussed throwing arm from his days as a pitcher.
“He’s going to be a solid outfielder,” assistant GM and farm chief Chris Getz said during a media session Tuesday. “He’s got a plus arm. He’ll certainly want to advertise that come spring training. But he has instincts out there, covers ground, communicates well. He can make some plays. He’ll be a solid corner outfielder defensively.”
But while anyone could have figured all that out from previous scouting reports and a trip over to Baseball Reference, it’s the White Sox who have seemed so enamored with his potential this winter, whether it be Hahn, Grifol or Getz.
“Oscar’s season was certainly impressive,” Getz said. “Quite honestly, (he) continued to get better every time he was challenged at a higher level. … You have a player that was coming into an organization essentially for the first year, certainly here in the States, and that can be overwhelming. And I feel like Lorenzo (Bundy, White Sox minor league manager) really slowed it down for him, taught him what it means to be a professional, what he’s going to face on a daily basis (as well as) in the future and really set the standard for him. And Oscar really took to that.
“He’s a guy who has really good hands at the plate, certainly has power, has a good arm, he loves to compete and plays passionately. He has a chance to be an impactful major league player. There’s a real aggressiveness to how he plays the game. He has the ability to make adjustments at the plate just because of how talented his hands are. And (we) feel like he really has a chance to help our major league club soon.”
“Soon” could mean Opening Day and seems like it will, at least at the moment. Is that too high of a risk to take for a White Sox team looking to compete at the highest levels in 2023?
The team’s confidence in Colás is obvious, but as was the case with “can’t miss” prospects like Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert, there’s a very real – and sometimes very lengthy – acclimation process that goes into arriving at the big league level for the first time. Colás doesn’t come with the hype of those guys, who were ranked as some of the top prospects in the game when they debuted, and was left off a recent top-100 list by The Athletic, though sits at No. 85 in MLB.com’s rankings.
What are the White Sox hoping to see from Colás during the spring that will confirm their belief that he’s ready for the jump to the majors?
“Just the consistent approach at the plate,” Getz said. “He can do some special things from at-bat to at-bat. But you’ve got someone on the mound that understands your tendencies, so it’s a bit of a cat-and-mouse game, at times. And you (try to) understand what he’s trying to do and what your strengths are, as well, and you have to stay disciplined. He’s shown signs of that in the past.
“We’ve certainly preached a consistent approach for him to have success at the major league level, and we’ll see how he takes to that. I know he’s worked really hard this offseason. He’s spent time with José Castro, Mike Tosar, Pedro, (assistant hitting coordinator) Danny Santin down in Florida. We just saw him recently at a mini-camp in Arizona. He’s in very good shape. You can tell he’s really dialed in and excited to have a productive year.”
The overhaul of the approach at the plate will be a storyline for the entire team this season, and there will be plenty of spotlight on the gains Grifol and his coaching staff can make after the White Sox struggled offensively throughout the 2022 campaign. Despite plenty of base hits, there was the aforementioned power outage, as well as a ridiculous dearth of walks, and even the fan base’s favorite targets throughout the summer – Tony La Russa and Frank Menechino – remarked often that the hitters had to be more disciplined at the dish.
We’ll see if an offseason spent working with the guys in charge of making that macro-level change can benefit Colás in that department, as well, or if his first taste of major league pitching will be akin to what so many others have experienced and there’s a period of struggle.
Regardless, the White Sox have drummed up expectations for Colás if in no other way but by not procuring a worthy challenger, and he’ll be one of the biggest stories of the spring, no matter what sort of performance he turns in.
When signed, he was seen as an outfielder of the future for this team, but the future has come fast for Colás, who will be one of many holding the fate of the White Sox in his hands this season.