Major League Baseball’s international free agency period is one where the Yankees have excelled at adding talent over the years. Six of the Yankees’ top-10 prospects per MLB.com were signed by the team out of the International free agent ranks. With the 2020 signing period that normally opens in July pushed back to January, an exciting new entry, 22-year-old Cuban outfielder Oscar Colás has joined the ranks, and the Yankees should be in full pursuit of this talented free agent.
We wrote about Colás last winter when he first attempted to become a free agent, but there is now a definitive timeline to his story. Colás has played several seasons in Japan already, reaching the highest levels of the sport with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks of the Japanese Pacific League. He played most of the 2019 season with their Western League team, a minor league squad, while reaching the majors at the end of the campaign.
The Western League is considered to be a rough equivalent of Double-A, while the Pacific League has a level of competition that is often equated to somewhere between the Major Leagues and Triple-A here in the states. He reached that level as a 20-year-old while performing very well. To put it in context, Deivi García was the only 20-year-old Yankees prospect playing in Triple-A during that 2019 season.
In the Western League, Colás his .300/.353/.511 with 12 home runs in 73 games. When he was called up to make his Fukuoka debut, he hit a home run in his first game.
In seven games at the highest levels of professional baseball in Japan, Colás hit .278/.381/.441. While a very small sample size, he was not overmatched by Pacific League pitching at first blush.
Colás did not play in 2020 as he attempted to become a free agent. His agents claimed that his contract was never signed by Colás or a guardian and was orchestrated by Cuban baseball officials with the Fukuoka teams. The result was that Colás missed a season but was then declared a free agent by all sides in November. Yesterday, Major League Baseball certified that he was approved to be a free agent who can be sign as soon as the January 15th signing period begins.
Normally, the Yankees would have the majority of their international bonus pool committed by now, but what was bad news a few weeks ago may have opened a door for the Yankees. Jesus Galiz, considered by many as one of the best catching prospects available in this international signing period, had long been linked to the Yankees. In mid-November, reports surfaced that he was pulling back from the Yankees to sign with the Dodgers. It is likely that this opened at least seven figures inside the Yankees’ bonus pool which can now be allocated towards Colás. The Yankees are not linked to any other players in the MLB.com top-30 international prospects with just over three weeks to go until the signing day.
The young Cuban is a good fit for any team, but he fits the Yankees’ needs in many ways. The Yankees currently have six members of their 40-man roster who have never played a game above the High-A level of the minors, by far the highest amount of any team. Colás will not be signing a major league contract due to the way the international free agent process works for a player of his age. This would give the Yankees a near major league ready player who does not occupy a valuable 40-man roster spot.
The young Cuban hits and throws left-handed, which is something that the Yankees have focused on adding to their system in recent years. Austin Wells, Trevor Hauver, Josh Smith and Jake Sanford are left-handed hitters that have all been drafted inside of the top three rounds of the past two drafts. It is something that the system had been lacking prior to a recent emphasis on bringing in lefty bats.
According to MLB.com, Colás can play all three outfield positions, giving him the ultimate flexibility to break into the roster and help a team that has been crushed by injuries over the past two seasons. His arm strength is elite, and his name will often be accompanied with the phrase “the Cuban Ohtani” as he flashed enough potential on the mound that some teams will be tempted to use him in this role.
He did not pitch in the Western League during his last season in Japan. He had previously pitched in Cuba, and in Japan during exhibition games. While a lefty that can hit the upper 90’s with his fastball will tempt some teams to have him pitch he is much closer to being a steady contributor with his bat and in the field.
The Yankees should be looking to add talented players every opportunity they can. Last season, they went all-in to add uber-prospect Jasson Dominguez and he is now considered their number one prospect. While they may have struggled to afford a player like Oscar Colás, recent events have opened space in their bonus pool. There will be no better use of that bonus pool money than to once again go all-in on a player who could develop quickly in an impact bat.