White Sox banking on prospect Oscar Colas in right field

The Cuban prospect slashed .314/.371/.524 with 23 home runs over three minor-league levels in 2022.

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Oscar Colas bats in a Cactus League game during 2022 spring training.

Oscar Colas bats in a Cactus League game during 2022 spring training.

John Antonoff/For Sun-Times

If Oscar Colas is the answer in right field the White Sox have been seeking for much too long, they can’t wait to find out.

So, with no major league experience, Colas will be granted an opportunity in spring training to suggest he is. Pitchers and catchers report to Glendale, Arizona, on Feb. 15, and a first full squad workout Feb. 20 will feature Colas, a 24-year-old left-handed Cuban with engaging swagger and, more importantly, good numbers across multiple minor league levels, as one of the main storylines of camp.

In 526 plate appearances between High-A Winston-Salem, Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte last season, Colas slashed .314/.371/.524 with 23 home runs and 79 RBI. In seven games at Charlotte, he put a tiny bow on the season by slashing .387/.424/.645 with two homers.

Colas is the Sox’ No. 2 ranked prospect per MLB Pipeline (behind shortstop Colson Montgomery) and is ranked No. 85 on MLB Pipeline’s list. Some publications do not include Colas in their top 100s but the Sox have seen enough.

“He’s going to show the people he’s a bona fide major league player,” said Marco Paddy, the Sox’ longtime international scouting chief who was watching Colas play at age 15.

Barring an acquisition before Opening Day, the Sox are also expected to fill second base with an unproven player. Romy Gonzalez, who has played in 42 major league games, and prospect Lenyn Sosa, who has played in 11, will get extensive looks in camp. Gonzalez has been talked up this offseason by manager Pedro Grifol, assistant general manager Chris Getz and GM Rick Hahn, who signed 30-year-old infielder Hanser Alberto and 31-year-old Erik Gonzalez to minor league deals with invitations to spring training for veteran protection. Veteran utility man Leury Garcia will also be on the roster for that same reason and versatility.

After chairman Jerry Reinsdorf nearly maxed out his budget for 2023 payroll by signing left fielder Andrew Benintendi to a franchise record $75 million, five-year deal in the offseason, right field and second base became destinations for minimum salaried options like Gonzalez and Colas, who signed a $2.7 million bonus last January.

Colas, at one time known as the “Cuban Ohtani” for his outfield-pitcher two-way talent, won’t wow anyone with his glove but Getz characterizes his defense as “solid” while saying he’s good enough to play center field as well.

“He’s got a plus arm. He’ll certainly want to advertise that come spring training,” Getz said. “But he has instincts out there, covers ground and communicates well. He can make some plays. He’ll be a solid corner outfielder defensively.”

That would be an upgrade over Andrew Vaughn and Gavin Sheets, first basemen who tried hard learning to play corner outfield spots last season, as well as defensively challenged left fielder Eloy Jimenez, who will take reps in right field this spring even though that corner demands more skill-wise. Jimenez, a 30-40 homer caliber slugger, is expected to get most of his work at designated hitter.

What Colas does at the plate, and how many at-bats he gets against left-handed pitching, remains to be seen. Getz said Colas’ consistent approach should bode well and expects, at least while he gets his first 50-100 plate appearances, to benefit from having unknown tendencies around the league.

Understanding his strengths and staying disciplined are essential when pitchers collect a book on him as at-bats accumulate.

“He’s shown signs of [being able to do] that in the past,” Getz said. “We’ve bridged 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.”

Much of the work with Grifol and new hitting coach Jose Castro, field coordinator Mike Tosar and minor league assistant hitting coordinator Danny Santin in Miami.

Those who have been around Colas enjoy his personality and respect his serious work ethic when it comes to hitting.

“He’s hungry for that opportunity,” Paddy said. “The results are going to be something special.”

The Sox know Colas will encounter adjustment lessons and the slumps as all rookies inevitably do. They would no doubt settle for league average production from a right fielder in 2023.

But at some point, perhaps in years to come, as Paddy says, they believe Colas can be an impact player.

Expecting to contend in the AL Central in 2023, the Sox are banking on it.

White Sox top prospects (Per MLB Pipeline)

1. Colson Montgomery, SS, 21

2. Oscar Colas, OF, 24

3. Noah Schultz, LHP, 19

4. Lenyn Sosa, IF, 23

5. Bryan Ramos, 3B, 20

6. Norge Vera, RHP, 22

7. Jose Rodriguez, SS/2B, 21

8. Peyton Pallette, RHP, 21

9. Sean Burke, RHP, 23

10. Cristian Mena, RHP, 20

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