According to recent reports, Oscar Colas has officially been notified that he will be included on the White Sox Opening Day 26-man roster. While many fans had been expecting this, and Rick Hahn himself had been hinting at this possibility since the beginning of the offseason, it is still reassuring to see it become official. White Sox fans will not have to endure another season of plugging in career first basemen to fill the long-standing void the club has had in the right field position.
Make no mistake, Colas earned this promotion to the big-league club. Through Spring Training, the Cuban prospect held a .258 batting average with three home runs and a .424 slugging rate. He displayed his bat-to-ball skills at the plate well, while also giving us some glimpses of the light tower power that he possesses. On the defensive side, he played primarily right field, which is where he is expected to play the vast majority of the time, while also filling in occasionally in center field.
While expectations may be high for the current Top 100 prospect, Colas is not quite a finished product yet and should not be expected to carry the lineup through his rookie year. While he hasn’t had too much of an issue with strikeouts throughout spring training, he does hold an aggressive approach at the plate that will limit his on-base percentage and could cap his overall offensive output. With that being said, he is more than capable of giving this lineup a boost from the sixth or seventh spot while providing a clear defensive upgrade in the corner outfield position.
At the plate, Colas would benefit from toning down his aggressive approach and waiting for his pitch. Through three minor league levels in 2022, Colas walked in 7.2% of his plate appearances, but unfortunately, his patience seemed to take a step back during camp with only one walk in 64 plate appearances. He has shown a decent ability to limit his swings and misses, however, with a strikeout rate of just under 23% throughout 2022. That rate did balloon up to 36.4% in his seven games in Triple-A, however, he was able to rein that back in through Spring Training with a strikeout rate under 15%. ZiPS projects Colas to hold a 26.8% strikeout rate and a 5.1% walk rate in this coming season, and many tend to agree with those projections. As a rookie, those percentages shouldn’t get in the way too much of his overall offensive output.
From a production standpoint, Colas should be able to complement this lineup extremely well in 2023. Last season, the White Sox were sorely lacking power at the plate and reliable left-handed hitters. Colas should be able to give the team a boost in both departments from day one, proving to be a perfect fit. While many young left-handed hitters might be better suited to fill platoon roles early on, Colas might be the exception as his OPS against left-handed pitchers in the minors last season was .951, beating out his .879 OPS against right-handed pitchers. Though it might be wise to ease him in a bit early on against left-handers, there should not be any pressure to lock him into a platoon role this season.
As a hitter, it is no secret that Colas’s calling card is his power potential. He hit 23 home runs throughout 2022, 14 of those coming in his 51-game stint in Double-A Birmingham, which is in a league known to favor pitchers and limit a hitter’s power output. Establishing a .257 Isolated Power rate in that league is all the proof you need to see that the power is real in Colas’s bat. What was arguably more impressive in his debut minor league season was his .314 batting average, which while boosted by a .378 BABIP is still incredibly impressive for an inexperienced hitter who’s known to possess an aggressive approach at the plate. ZiPS projects Colas to struggle a bit in his rookie season overall, predicting a .238/.283/.408 slash line with 21 home runs and a 94 wRC+. My expectations for Colas are a bit more cautiously optimistic, as he appears capable of hitting a .260 batting average with an OPS in the .750 range and a home run total in the 20-to-25 range.
Defensively, there is no question that Colas will be a significant upgrade in right field for the White Sox. A natural outfielder, he has spent the majority of his time in the right corner, with a significant amount of innings playing center field as well. While he will primarily be in right field, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him as the first option to spell Luis Robert in the middle of the outfield as well. While Colas can’t exactly match Robert’s athleticism, he has enough range to lay in the middle on a limited basis, while proving to be capable of making the right reads and showing off his former pitching experience with a cannon of an arm. Many expected the Sox to prioritize signing a fourth outfielder this offseason, however, Colas’ versatility may have been a factor in the decision to not bring any other options of significance in.
Overall, Colas should be expected to hold his own in his rookie season, and based on his talent can even be a Rookie of the Year candidate. Realistic expectations for him through year one should be a competent hitter at the plate who can hit a home run at any time and will also provide an upgrade defensively in right field.
Projected stat line: .263 batting average, .747 OPS, 23 home runs, 4.4 walk rate, 27.9 strike-out rate
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