With Spring Training less than a month away, it appears that Oscar Colas has the inside track position to earn the job as the White Sox Opening Day right fielder. The top free agents are off the board, and the White Sox No.2 overall prospect is coming off a solid 2022 campaign in the minor leagues.
The 24-year-old slashed .314/.371/.524 with a .895 OPS between High-A Winston-Salem, Double-A Birmingham, and Triple-A Charlotte in 2022, tallying 23 home runs, 24 doubles, four triples, 79 RBIs, and 81 runs scored. He also made an appearance in the MLB Futures game and put on an impressive defensive display.
However, new manager Pedro Grifol has offered some insight into how the playing time in right field will be divided up, and it doesn’t appear that Colas is a lock just yet.
“Well, certainly, Oscar Colas is going to be given every opportunity to see if he can become our right fielder on a daily basis,” Grifol said. However, he later added, “There’s going to be some competition there in right field, and Oscar is going to be right in the middle of it.”
Asking Colas to log the bulk of the innings and contribute on a contending team with limited Triple-A experience under his belt is not the best recipe for success. It could be beneficial for Colas to spend the first month of the year in Charlotte. The problem is there aren’t any other true right-fielders on the roster. Colas will have the edge in any Spring Training competition.
The White Sox added Victor Reyes, Billy Hamilton, and Jake Marisnick this offseason, but none of them appear to be starting-caliber MLB players at this point. Marisnick provides the best defense between the three, but his lackluster offense numbers make him seem like more of a fourth outfielder coming off the bench. Marisnick owns a career slash line of .228/.281/.384, Hamilton is a career .239 hitter, while Reyes owns a slightly better .264 mark but has played far fewer games.
Gavin Sheets appears to be Colas’ biggest competition for the Opening Day job. Sheets has hit 26 homer runs in just 178 games during his first two seasons. He has also posted an OPS over 700 in each of his first two seasons, including a .830 mark in his rookie year.
But Sheets is not an outfielder by trade. He came up in the White Sox system as a first baseman, and it shows. In 2022 Sheets 13th percentile in Outs Above Average and the second percentile in Outfield Jump. He also posted a -5 OAA in right field last season. Colas moves well for his size, has a big arm, and has more experience playing the outfield. He’s played in the Cuban and Japanese leagues since 2016-17 when he was 17 years old.
Don’t rule out Eloy Jimenez on getting some time in right field, either. Grifol alluded to the fact that Jimenez could see some action and doubled down on it once again this week.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing Eloy in right field,” Grifol said. “I’m not talking about seeing him there every day, but I’m talking about maybe seeing him there a day or two a week if possible and keeping him athletic and keeping him working on the defensive side because I know that helps on the offensive side as well.”
Grifol’s explanation makes sense if used in moderation. One of the reasons the White Sox parted ways with Jose Abreu was to move Andrew Vaughn to first base and improve their outfield defense. Playing Jimenez in either corner outfield spot is a step in the wrong direction. He needs to be the everyday designated hitter outside of a couple of spot starts.
Colas has talent. Even if he isn’t ready for the big leagues, he is the White Sox best option. Defense killed the White Sox last season, especially their corner outfielders. Their right fielders combined for the third worse defensive runs saved in the MLB with a whooping -13. Left field was not much better as the team combined for a -6 mark. It is one of the reasons the front office was so high on former Gold Glove winner Andrew Benintendi.
Colas will go through some growing pains at the plate. It happens to every rookie. But at the bare minimum, a lineup of Benintendi, Robert, and Colas makes up a respectable defensive unit. Since the White Sox decided not to go out and acquire an actual upgrade, there is no reason that Colas should not be the everyday right fielder once the season rolls around, despite all the talks of competition in Spring Training.