After a two-month stint back in Triple-A Charlotte to work on some much-needed aspects of his game, the White Sox’ number two prospect Oscar Colás is back in the big leagues. The team officially announced his return on Tuesday.
When the Sox sent Colás down on May 2, they sent him with a specific set of things they wanted him to work on. Chiefly, they wanted to see that Colás could improve his pregame preparation and better handle on-field setbacks. Now, two months later, the powers that be are happy enough with the growth they have seen on those fronts to bring him back to Chicago.
“He was sent out with a pretty clear explanation about some of the things we wanted him to do in terms of his game prep, in terms of knowing the opposing pitcher, in terms of his attack plan on a given night,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “And our player-development people — [Justin Jirschele], Cam Seitzer, Chris Getz — were involved in helping him develop that plan and a pretty regimented schedule on a daily basis. He absolutely ramped up the amount of work he was doing. It was purposeful work and focused work and is bearing fruit, especially over the last couple weeks.”
The results of late would seem to back up Hahn’s assertion. Colás has hit safely in each of the last eight games he’s played for Triple-A Charlotte, a stretch in which he’s batted .394 and clubbed six home runs. On the whole, Colás is hitting .293/.358/.508 with 14 doubles, nine home runs, 29 RBI, and an .866 OPS in 48 games in Triple-A this year.
Hahn made a point to say that the timing of Colás being called up had more to do with how much his behind-the-scenes work had improved. But it’s hard to ignore how much a hot bat like his could help the Sox offense on what will likely be their last chance to right the ship and avoid a major selloff at the trade deadline.
This is not to suggest that that Colás by himself can make that much of a difference, but he can provide pop in a lineup that still sits around the middle of the pack in power – the Sox are 13th in baseball in home runs and 21st in slugging percentage – and Colás can also improve upon the production the Sox have gotten from their right fielders. Their corps at that position ranks dead last in baseball with -1 fWAR so far this season.
On that front, both Hahn and manager Pedro Grifol said the plan is for Colás to be treated more or less like the everyday right fielder, or at least the primary one.
“He’s going to play on a daily basis. I’ll give him a break every once in a while,” Grifol said. “Some guys will take a little bit of a hit on playing time, but I would never hesitate to give him a break and throw somebody else out there.”
Though Colás struggled to produce during his first stint in the majors earlier this season, the team is looking first for how he can handle when things go wrong or when he makes mistakes. Colás said he felt rookie anxiousness back in April and even felt overwhelmed at times by the speed of the game. And as mistakes, both mental and physical, added up, he struggled with not letting them affect his play as a whole.
“Control the emotions and the anxiety,” he said via team interpreter Billy Russo. “As a rookie, I think I was trying to do too much. I was battling with my anxieties. I think now, I’m in a better position.”
Colás owned just a .541 OPS in 25 games with the Sox during the first month of the season. He said he saw quickly the difference between minor and major league pitchers.
“Pitchers here, they don’t make mistakes,” he said. “They can make one mistake per game, one mistake per at-bat, and you have to capitalize on those mistakes. If not, you’re going to be in trouble.”
Not being able to hit major league pitching impacted other parts of his game, according to Grifol. Colás wanted to produce, and as he struggled more and more to do that at the plate, he tried harder to come through defensively and ended up making miscues. Not always major ones that show up in a box score, but things like throwing to the wrong base from the outfield. It likely didn’t help that as Colás was going through all of this, the Sox were putting together an 8-21 start.
“The overwhelming part of it came with struggles at the plate. It affected everything, his defense, his base running, his focus in applying instruction. It affected everything, right?” Grifol said. “Sometimes this game up here is hard and some guys can handle it right away and some guys need it to continue to develop. He needed it to continue to develop.”
Whether or not Colás has improved enough upon the things that caused him to struggle in April will have to be seen. He at least is returning to the big leagues having seen and experienced it once before, and the best test for whether or not he has grown enough will be to see how Colás responds when struggles inevitably come.
In Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the Blue Jays, Colás was 1-4 with a bunt single.
Colás is confident in himself – he emphasized that fact before Tuesday’s game: “I’m 100 percent convinced that the results are going to be better this time,” he said – but the major leagues are a crucible that can melt even the most talented players. Perhaps appropriately, Clint Frazier was optioned on Tuesday to make room for Colás. Frazier was the fifth overall pick in 2013 but has never been able to fully realize the talent that got him selected that high.
Frazier’s story is different from Colás, but it helps illustrate the way that one or two bumps in even the most talented player’s road can throw everything off course. In Colás’ case, the Sox want to see growth in how he responds to those bumps in the road.
“You’re in the major leagues, you’re playing with the best in the world and you gotta control your emotions,” Grifol said. “He’s a guy that plays with a lot of flair and a lot of emotion, and we’re asking him to tone that down a little bit. I don’t want him to stop playing with fire or emotion. I just want, when mistakes are made, to stay calm and just understand that we’re going to learn from this and we’re going to move on, but we’re certainly not going to add to it.”
In order to trust whether Colás has matured enough, Sox fans will have to watch for what happens when the familiar tests start coming. Colás says he has learned how to better manage his emotional response in those situations.
“In the past I was just felt overwhelmed and I just put my head down,” he said. “Now, I’m able to just sit down and think about it and analyze what happened or the situation. That helped me to get better.”