After a tumultuous year away from baseball, powerful outfielder Oscar Colas said he is now ready to sign with a big league club thanks in part to the lessons he learned from his time in Japan.
The 22-year-old Colas refused to play this past season for the Pacific League’s Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, who put him on the restricted list, preventing him from signing anywhere else. On Dec. 2, his baseball limbo ended when the Hawks declined to offer him a 2021 contract, making him a free agent.
Instead of rancor toward the Hawks, the young power hitter said he is thankful for the baseball education he received in Japan and for the chance SoftBank gave him as he pursues a future in the major leagues.
“I want to give thanks to the team for believing in me and bringing me to Japan and for their reasonableness throughout this process,” Colas told Kyodo News in Spanish with his agent, Charisse Dash, acting as an interpreter.
“I never wanted things to turn out so contentious. I don’t have anything bad to say about the team. I am thankful for the opportunity and the way they treated me throughout this tough year.”
His Hawks contract, negotiated by the Cuban government, contained a five-year team option. Colas insists it was never explained to him and thought he had no obligation to SoftBank beyond 2019.
He defected last winter in the hope of signing a deal with a major league club, something SoftBank would not permit. Dash believes he could sign with a big league club as early as January.
Although Colas is also a hard-throwing left-handed pitcher, he suggested he could do without his people calling him “the Cuban Ohtani” — a reference to the Los Angeles Angels’ two-way Japanese player Shohei Ohtani.
“My personal preference is to be a position player and bat,” said Colas, who named Barry Bonds as the player who inspired him the most. “It’s been three years since I pitched. I can do it, but it’s been years.”
“I would love to face (star pitchers) Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole.”
Colas acknowledged that realizing his dream of playing in the majors will be a daily grind, but something he got plenty of during his Japan apprenticeship. Japan, he said, was a valuable springboard for his pro career.
“Japanese baseball is an extremely professional organization. Although the pitching is not as fast, it’s still the same pitches, so I feel it is something I’ll bring with me,” he said.
Colas said he knew next to nothing about Japanese ball before the Hawks brought him over on a developmental contract in 2017.
“When I came to Japan, everything surprised me — how they approached the game, from the way the fields looked to the way the pitchers pitched, to the way the batters hit,” he said. “Everything was completely different from what I was used to seeing.”
“I learned discipline, I learned concentration in the field, patience at the plate and a lot of tactics.”
Part of the new experience was the warm welcome from Hawks fans. And even though things didn’t end as the Hawks wished, Colas said he fell in love with team’s supporters and wanted to thank them.
“Thank you for sticking around and never judging me,” he said. “Thank you for always being there with me during my highs and lows.”
And there were lows.
In 2018, his first full season in Japan, Colas did not put up impressive numbers with the Hawks’ Western League farm club, and struck out in 45 of his 146 at-bats. Yet, he said that was when he first felt he could make it to the major leagues.
That feeling was cemented the next season, when he tore up minor league pitching and homered in his debut with the Hawks’ first team.
“When I hit the home run in my first plate appearance with the SoftBank Hawks, I felt my body was definitely able to play in the big leagues,” he said.
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