News broke at the beginning of the week that one of the top young players from Cuba, 21-year-old Oscar Colas, has defected and is preparing to become an international free agent. Colas has played in Japan the last two seasons, and the Yankees figure to take a look at what it will take to acquire the talented, young player.
Colas is primarily a right fielder, though he also played some first base during his time in Cuba. He has enough athletic ability to remain as a solid corner outfielder, but what separates him and excites scouts is a 95 mph fastball with enough movement and control to make pitching at a high level a viable option. Colas has not pitched much in Japan, but with teams around the league beginning to develop two-way players like Shohei Ohtani, and Brendan McKay, Colas could fit into that track.
Playing mostly in the Western League, one of the Japanese minor leagues this past season, Colas hit .300/.353/.511 with 12 home runs in 73 games. His performance was strong enough to earn a promotion for seven games to the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks of the Japanese Pacific League. This exposure bodes well for a player who spent the entire season as a 20-year-old.
Colas will be subjected to the salary restrictions of the international bonus pool, in the same way that Shohei Ohtani was in 2017. Every team in baseball has already spent a significant portion of their international money for the current signing period, leading many to assume that he will wait for July 2nd, when teams will have a full bonus pool allotment. After signing Jasson Dominguez in 2019, the consensus number international prospect, the Yankees will be looking at the top of the class again, but they have some obstacles to overcome and consider in their pursuit of the talented Cuban player.
Due to their revenue, the Yankees start the international signing period with one of the smallest bonus pools in the league. In addition, they will see their number decreased by $1 million due to the compensation they were charged for signing Gerrit Cole, who turned down the Astros‘ qualifying offer.
In 2018, then 22-year-old Cuban Victor Victor Mesa signed with the Miami Marlins for $5.25 million as a international free agent. Scouts view Colas’s bat as far more advanced, and with a higher offensive ceiling than Mesa has. Due to the international signing limits, it is hard to see Colas getting a significantly higher number than what Mesa received, but something north of $5 million should be expected.
The Yankees will also be cognizant of balancing the needs of their farm system. In the current international signing period, they went all-in on Dominguez. With all the praise getting heaped on Dominguez, nobody in the organization is worried about spending $5.1 million on one player. Yet, the reviews for the rest of the class say that it is very shallow, almost exclusively built on the potential of one player.
The depth of the Yankees’ 2019 international class took an additional hit when the Tampa Bay Rays were able to swoop in and sign Jhon Diaz, the second-best prospect committed to the Yankees before they could trade for the extra international bonus allotment needed to complete his deal. Going all-in two years in a row, combined with the loss of two draft picks as the part of the Gerrit Cole compensation can put a potential gap in the Yankees’ system that they will have to face down the road.
The Yankees should aggressively pursue Colas. The 21-year-old could step immediately into the Triple-A level, and possibly be ready for the majors as early as the end of this season. As an older international free agent, who has played at the highest level of professional baseball in Japan, there is far less risk than even the best 16-year-olds that come from the international market. While the Yankees will have to trade immediately for more international spending space, and face another shallow international class built on the back on one player, it very likely is worth the risk to bring in elite talent that will be ready to contribute in the near future.