Here is a 20-year-old Cuban outfielder hitting a home run in a developmental game for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks:
And here is a 20-year-old Cuban left-handed pitcher showing off a 95-mph fastball in a developmental game for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks:
Yep, that’s the same player (wearing 144!) both times. And now he’s on his way to MLB. According to Francys Romero, Oscar Colas has defected with the intent of playing in the United States as soon as possible. Colas had a good 2019, hitting .302/.350/.516 over 274 Western League plate appearances before being called up to the Softbank Hawks, where he hit a home run in his first at-bat.
It’s difficult to resist the temptation to compare Colas, whom Jeff Passan calls one of the best Cuban prospects to appear in years, to Shohei Ohtani. Indeed, MLB.com titled the story covering his defection with “‘Cuban Ohtani’ pursuing path to MLB”. In truth, there’s no comparison: when Ohtani moved to the Los Angels Angels in 2017, he had significantly more success, at a higher level and for longer than Colas has wrangled so far.
But baseball has a romance problem, and this, perhaps, is where the comparison does hold up. The best player in the game, transcendent on the diamond though he might be, has quite carefully cultivated the public notoriety of a duller-than-usual fencepost. Any demonstration of personality by anyone else is quickly denounced as ‘disrespectful’. Teams are valuing dollars saved over talent at levels which seem untenable. The whole minor league system seems to be teetering on the brink of catastrophy.
Ohtani, despite his unfortunate injury issues, has blazed his way through this dying firmament. Even before he showed he could be successful as both a pitcher and a hitter in the majors, Ohtani represented something special, something fundamentally new in a sport that feels stale. His performance helps, of course, but what really matters is the romance he represents. Sure, he could be more effective deciding to be a starter or a designated hitter full-time. But when sublimity is an option, efficiency can and should go right to hell.
Oscar Colas, left-handed pitcher and outfielder, is at the stage of his career when he’s just defined enough as a player to be dreamed about, but without the weight of performance pressing so heavily on him that we have to be unreasonably reasonable about his prospects. Is he good enough to have some chance of success as a two-way player in the majors? Yes. That alone should make fans of whichever team signs him excited.
It’ll be a while before we find out where Colas ends up. The intricacies of the international free agent system mean that it might make more sense for him to wait to pick a team until July, when teams’ bonus pools roll over. But whenever he does sign, he’ll be a player at that perfect moment of pure if unlikely potential, unmarred by brute reality. It’ll be a time to dream. Embrace it.