There are probably 29 major league teams who wouldn’t send a rookie to the minors with only three weeks of totally meaningless games left in the season, but Oscar Colás plays for the Chicago White Sox, so he got a chance to pick up frequent flier miles en route to Charlotte. While the timing is certainly questionable, it’s not arguable that Pedro Grifol, while hardly ever right about anything, was correct in saying the rookie really, really needs to work on his fundamentals.
It’s not surprising that any White Sox rookie would be lacking in fundamental baseball skills and knowledge, because almost the whole team shares that problem, which must somehow explain why the person who was a total failure in developing a system that teaches those fundamentals got promoted. Still, in the case of Colás, there’s one word that makes you wonder if White Sox player development isn’t even worse than we all already knew it was:
Please permit a brief sideways journey of personal nostalgia
In 2005 my wife and son and I took a cruise in the Far East that included a stop in Nagasaki. After visiting the National Peace Memorial Hall, my wife did some shopping, and Will and I went walkabout and came across a baseball stadium with a game in progress.
Tickets were cheap, so we went in to watch what turned out to be the high school prefecture championship. And that was a revelation.
Will had the good fortune to one summer play for, and I had the chance to help coach for, a team that got a kind of back entry into an 18-and-under US championship and then got really hot and ended up with nifty medals. In the process, we got a good idea what top-flight high school baseball looks like. That still wasn’t quite full preparation for Japan.
My recall of Nagasaki is of a game that was played exceedingly well, but I wasn’t sure if that was a case of geriatric selective memory, so I texted Will and asked his impressions, and he said, “You remember very correctly. Everything looked like an instructional video.”
Players were always where they were supposed to be. Throws always went where they were supposed to go, no cutoff man left staring into space. Every batter made a two-strike adjustment. Every baserunner took proper leads at proper times. They could bunt and hit-and-run and move runners along.
If you ever watched Japanese teams in the Little League World Series, you get the idea. The players on average aren’t as big or as strong as Americans (I said “on average,” Mr. Ohtani, sir), but boy did they do everything right.
Of course, they had one heck of a role model, perhaps the smartest and most fundamentally-sound baseball player in any country, so renowned his first name was enough for all baseball fans to know him.
Which brings us to Oscar Colás
Colás spent parts of three seasons, as an 18-to-20 year old, playing in the Japanese minor leagues: 114 games all told, enough to add up to one full Japanese minors season.
Almost all the games were with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks of the Japanese Western League, a league that was very much intended to develop players. By his third season, Colás had worked his way up to a .302/.350/.516 slash line and even moved up a level for seven games.
Which raises the question: How did Oscar Colás spend all that time in the land of the flawless fundamentals, and still end up so devoid of basic knowledge and skills?
We’re not talking the inability to hit major league pitching — that’s commonplace among rookies, especially those who, like Colás, were rushed to the parent team without proper Stateside minor league prep, thanks to playing in a system with no player development worth a damn. We’re talking baserunning and defensive positioning and decisions and all that sort of thing, the sort every youth coach tries to teach — not that many other White Sox are familiar with those concepts, either.
How did Oscar not pick up anything in Japan? True, he actually played first base more than outfield there — 68 games to 46 — so there’s a question of whether he’s the latest case of the Sox trying to jam a first baseman into a position where he doesn’t belong. But Colás doesn’t suffer from the Human Statue Syndrome that afflicts Andrew Vaughn and Gavin Sheets, so he should be able to overcome the switch, especially because he has the arm strength the others don’t.
But why didn’t he learn? Was it a language issue? Was he unwilling to listen to coaches? Did they not work with him enough?
Or maybe he did learn. Maybe — and this is an added scare to an already scary situation — maybe the White Sox player development is so incredibly horrible that it defundamentalizes, making players unlearn what they already know, to get worse.
That would explain a lot of other things, too.