What to expect from White Sox prospect Colás in bigs

March 29th, 2023

The White Sox expected that Oscar Colás would move quickly after they signed him for $2.7 million in January 2022. Perhaps not this quickly, however.

Colás spent three years splitting time between Cuba's Series Nacional and Japan's minor Western League from 2017-19, getting just a seven-game cup of coffee with Japan's big league Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. But he needed just one season in the U.S. Minors, advancing from High-A to Triple-A last summer, to win Chicago's right-field job.

Colás, No. 2 on the White Sox Top 30 Prospects list, features some of the best power and arm strength in the club's system, and he should provide an offensive and defensive upgrade over Gavin Sheets, who had projected as the club's right fielder at the outset of Spring Training. Colás outplayed him on both sides of the ball in the Cactus League, hitting .262/.273/.431 with three homers in 65 at-bats. He gives Chicago four Cubans in its starting lineup, joining Yasmani Grandal, Yoán Moncada and Luis Robert Jr.

Before he could sign with a big league team, Colás first had to extricate himself from his Hawks contract. He believed he was bound to the club only through the 2019 season, but the deal contained five option years that he said never were explained to him.

Softbank placed him on its restricted list while he sat out the 2020 season, then declined to offer him a contract, which made him a free agent in December 2020. He wanted to join the White Sox, who already had committed most of the money in their 2021 international bonus pool, so he waited 13 months to sign with Chicago as part of its 2022 class.

Despite his two-year layoff, Colás showed little rust in his U.S. debut in 2022. His OPS rose from .845 in High-A to .928 in Double-A to 1.069 in Triple-A, and he batted .314/.371/.524 overall with 23 homers in 117 games at age 23. Ranked No. 85 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list, he showed the ability to make adjustments as he rose through the Minors, doing a better job of using the entire field and employing an improved two-strike approach.

Colás still is going to be a power-over-hit guy, because his bat speed, the strength in his 5-foot-11, 220-pound frame and his aggressive mindset combine to create well-above-average raw pop from the left side of the plate. But he's a more advanced hitter than initially expected and shows a willingness to not worry about home runs and just let his hands work when he faces southpaws or falls behind in the count. He hit .362/.417/.533 against lefties in 2022, compared to .301/.358/.521 against righties.

Colás' 23 percent strikeout rate last year is an acceptable tradeoff for his power, but his 7 percent walk rate underscores the need for more patience. He has a tendency to chase breaking balls out of the strike zone that big league pitchers will try to exploit.

Though Colás moves well for his size, he's just a fringy runner who's not much of a factor on the bases, and he'll need to maintain his conditioning to keep what speed he has. After spending the majority of his time in Japan at first base, he saw most of his action in 2022 in center field. He's a better fit in right field, where he projects as an average defender.

While he was once hyped as "The Cuban Ohtani" and could run his fastball up to 95 mph when he pitched sporadically in Cuba and Japan, Colás had no real desire to pitch, and Chicago signed him solely as an outfielder. His well-above-average arm strength is still apparent and helped him record seven assists in 34 games as a right fielder last year.

The White Sox have scored big by signing players such as José Abreu and Robert directly out of Cuba in the past, and Colás could hit in the middle of their lineup once he adapts to the big leagues. He could provide 30 or more homers per season once he gets established.