The headline here is a little bit misleading, because of course the Cincinnati Reds should look into every free agent. If for no other reason than to see if the player makes sense for the organization, the team should at least take a cursory glance at everyone that’s available. But Oscar Colas isn’t just a guy that should be given a short look.
Now, if you are sitting here wondering who Oscar Colas is, you probably aren’t alone. The now 21-year-old has spent the last two seasons playing for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in Japan – mostly in their minor leagues. As a 17-year-old he played a partial season in the Cuban National Series, hitting .278/.370/.494. During the 2018 season in Japan he struggled as a 19-year-old, hitting just .212/.259/.432 with eight walks and 45 strikeouts in 158 plate appearances.
Things got a whole lot better in 2019 as a 20-year-old. He only played in about half of a season, but hit .300/.353/.511 in his 295 plate appearances. His walk rate increased a little bit, jumping to 6.8% from 5.1%. But his strikeout rate also dropped from 28.5% to 22.8%. The power actually dropped off a little bit, though, as his isolated power (SLG-AVG) went from 220 to 211. Barely a difference, but a difference.
Francys Romero of MLB.dom reported this afternoon that that Oscar Colas has defected from Cuba and is looking to sign on with a Major League team.
Jeff Passan of ESPN noted that Colas has a heck of an arm off of the mound, which makes him just a little more intriguing.
Outfielder/pitcher Oscar Colás, one of the best prospects to emerge from Cuba in years, has defected and will seek a deal with a major league team, sources familiar with his plans tell ESPN. Colás, 21, played in Japan last year and hit .302/.350/.516. He’s a LHP up to 95, too.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 3, 2020
Usually when you have a player defect from Cuba – particularly in the last decade – they don’t have much of a track record to work with in any professional league. Players have been defecting at younger ages than before. The Cuban league is a shell of what it used to be as more and more players have left the country to play in both the United States and Japan (they don’t have to defect the country to play here).
Colas turned 21 in mid-September. He’s listed at 6′ 1″ and 209 lbs. He’s been an outfielder while in Japan, but in his lone season in the Cuban National Series he also played some first base. At that age, there’s clearly room for continued growth in his game. He’s younger than half of the Cincinnati Reds Top 10 prospects.
With his lack of professional seasons, he can’t sign a Major League contract. He is eligible only as an international free agent subject to the rules for amateurs. There will be no posting fee. Due to his status it’s expected that he won’t sign until July as most teams have used up their bonus pool money for the current signing period and he’s going to want to maximize what he can get. That number is going to be a lot higher in July than if he signs this signing period. Of course, it’s possible that he may not be eligible this signing period, either. He will need to establish residency in another country first, and go through the approval process with Major League Baseball. That can take a while, though sometimes it happens faster for certain players than others.
The Reds have been one of the most active teams in baseball when it comes to signing players from Cuba. It started with Aroldis Chapman a decade ago. Then they brought in Raisel Iglesias a few years later. And then they went into the international signing penalty box in 2016/2017 after spending nearly $30M to bring in Jose Garcia, Vladimir Gutierrez, and Alfredo Rodriguez. This past summer, finally free to spend their full allotment of bonus pool money, they picked up Michel Triana for $1.3M. Cincinnati’s been very aggressive when it comes to the older, more proven Cuban-born prospects on the international market.
Given his age and proven performance in Japan, it’s very likely that Oscar Colas is going to be at or near the very top of the 2020 signing class. The Reds took advantage of their ability to sign players to large deals once again this past summer, inking two players to 7-figure bonuses, while signing several more to 6-figure bonuses. Another big splash on a player like Colas would be huge – but no matter who he signs with, expect it to be for far more money than Cincinnati has ever paid out in a bonus to an international player (both Chapman and Iglesias signed Major League deals – which is very different than what will be happening here).
Updated: The original version of this article didn’t note that Colas’ had been playing mostly in the minor leagues in Japan. Their system, apparently, uses the literal same name for their minor league and big league teams. Both their minor league and big league team go by the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and are listed as such at Baseball-Reference.