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White Sox see path for Oscar Colás to return to major leagues after rough go as rookie

Vinnie Duber Avatar
February 24, 2024
Oscar Colás

PHOENIX — On a day when the White Sox weren’t able to do much to “PLAY FAST,” as Pedro Grifol’s signs around Camelback Ranch instruct them to, one of last year’s most maligned players showed a glimmer of what the South Siders want to look like in 2024.

Oscar Colás’ two stints in the majors last season were mostly disastrous. He didn’t hit well, showed little mastery of the strike zone, made regular defensive mistakes in the outfield and ran into outs on the base paths. Grifol made a habit of talking about Colás’ shortcomings as a major leaguer in postgame press conferences, which caught the attention of fans.

But there Colás was Friday in the team’s Cactus League opener against the Cubs, busting down the first-base line and legging out an infield single late in a game that was over after an inning, the North Siders tagging Jesse Chavez for six quick runs.

On an otherwise bad day for the White Sox, this was a shining example of exactly how Grifol wants these White Sox to play.

“You watching the game, is that what you want to see? If you pay to come watch us play, is that something you want to see? That’s what it’s about, man,” Grifol said Saturday. “That’s who we are. That’s who we’re talking about becoming. That’s it right there.”

For all that went wrong for him last year, Colás couldn’t be criticized for a lack of hustle, and his aggressiveness actually got him into trouble, at times, when he would badly misjudge his ability to make it to second as a base runner or his ability to catch a runner at third with a throw from the outfield, not even attempting to hit the cut-off man.

Showing the kind of max-effort, grinder attributes that Grifol hopes eventually define this White Sox team probably still won’t earn Colás a spot on the team’s Opening Day roster. There’s too much the organization needs to see him fix at the minor league level. And unlike last year, the path is not cleared for Colás to win an everyday gig in right field, as was the case during the previous offseason. Chris Getz added multiple right-field options this winter, chiefly Dominic Fletcher, who the general manager said has “a leg up” when it comes to receiving the bulk of the playing time out there.

But the book is not closed on Colás by a long shot, it seems, not even after he eschewed playing winter ball, something Grifol said repeatedly at the end of last season would be important. Working with Luis Robert Jr. this offseason sounds like it produced the type of player, at least from a physical standpoint, the White Sox wanted to see.

Obviously, seeing how that translates to actually playing baseball games will be of greater importance.

“For not playing winter ball, which is something that we all wanted him to do, I can actually say it’s OK. I can give him a break on that because he didn’t waste his time,” Grifol said. “He’s in really, really, really good shape. He’s strong. He’s athletic. He’s saying all the right things. He’s answering all the questions the right way. He’s in a really good spot.

“Now, part of all of this is execution on the field. This is the major leagues. You have to be able to execute. He’s got to go out there and do it. He’s more than capable of doing it. He’s got to slow it down and go do it.”

There’s Grifol again talking about a lack of speed when it comes to Colás, as opposed to the type of fast-paced play he’s preaching this spring. Last year, a similar comment from Grifol after a Colás base-running gaffe sparked fan outrage on social media. But Colás’ ability to play at a high speed was often accompanied by a tendency to play in a somewhat out-of-control fashion, and even Robert talked of Colás — who admitted to being over-eager and over-anxious — needing to be calmer on the field.

“The biggest takeaway from me was to control my anxiety. Don’t try to speed up the game. Don’t try to go too fast,” Colás said through team interpreter Billy Russo earlier this week. “You have that desire to do the things when you want it, and sometimes they were in the right moment to do stuff, and then you have to learn from it. You have to learn how to control all that and just to keep the speed of the game the same as it is. You don’t need to speed up the game or be faster than the game.”

Work in that specific area might not be able to be done until Colás gets his next major league chance, and it’s a wonder when that will be. As mentioned, the depth chart in right field looks to be topped by Fletcher. As of this second, veteran Kevin Pillar would be the best guess to grab the fourth-outfielder spot. And only if Gavin Sheets fends off Mike Moustakas’ springtime challenge for the job of lefty power bat off the bench will there be a fifth player able to assume some innings out there.

Colás, Getz said during the Winter Meetings in December, seems destined to begin the season, at least, at Triple-A Charlotte. It could take injuries at the major league level and/or a blow-their-socks-off performance in the minors for Colás to earn any significant major league playing time this season.

That said, it’s possible. And considering the amount of money the team invested in him as an international free-agent signing, it stands to reason that there’s still a place for Colás in the White Sox’ long-term planning, as well — assuming he’s able to convince them he deserves one.

“Obviously, his experience last year wasn’t up to his standards,” Getz said earlier this week, “but that’s not uncommon for young players to come up to the big leagues and face some adversity. The hope is he uses that adversity to make the proper adjustments. Playing on the stage of the major league level can be a tricky transition. But the best players use any sort of struggle along the way and channel that into being a future productive major league player.”

And what says Grifol, whose criticisms of Colás were noticeably different from how he talked about other players, even if not unwarranted?

“The beauty of this game is to take (advantage) the opportunity that’s right in front of you. That’s the beauty of the game,” said Grifol, who’s spent the spring touting the competitiveness of his camp. “He’s going to have an opportunity to make the team. If he doesn’t make the team, he’s got an opportunity to get back up here. And how you do that? You prepare and you execute. If an organization wants you to play a certain way, and you want to play in the big leagues with that organization, guess what? You’ve got to do it. You’ve got to execute. We’re never going to turn our backs from a talent like that and just say no.

“Players are allowed to get better. You’ve just got to give them the time. Some take a week, some take a year, but you never turn your back away. … He has talent. Big time talent. He wants to be good.”

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