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Major League Baseball is planning to hold a bargaining session with the MLB Players Association on Thursday. If it’s anything like previous negotiation sessions, nothing’s going to come of it, but reports of coming talks are better than drop-dead silence.
Assuming nothing significant comes immediately from this round, the opening of the international signing period on Saturday will get its time to shine, In a winter so starved for baseball news that the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft had unprecedented pull, Jan. 15 should have some real juice.
That’s especially the case for the White Sox, who promise to be unusually active this year. MLB.com and Baseball America both have the White Sox tied to the same two prospects in their rankings. BA’s Ben Badler says they’re one of four clubs set to sign a pair of $1 million players, and while one of them has been highly anticipated because he fits the White Sox’s typical profile, the less-heralded signing could portend better days ahead in this department.
MLB.com: No. 5 | BA: No. 5
Colás was once regarded as the Cuban Shohei Ohtani, but now he’s more considered a left fielder with a strong arm. He last played professionally in 2019, spending most of the season on the roster of the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks’ minor league team. He hit .302/.350/.516 as a 20-year-old, an improvement over his struggles in 2018 (.212/.259/.519). He earned a promotion to the first team and homered in his first trip to the plate. He ultimately went 5-for-18 with a homer, walk and six strikeouts, getting plunked twice.
He then had a contentious separation from the Hawks, sitting out the 2020 season on the restricted list before Fukuoka cut him loose during the following winter. The issue was his contract, which the Cuban government negotiated on his behalf.
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.
Colás was let go in December of 2020, a little more than a month before 2021-22 signing period opened. He could’ve signed during that window, but with most teams already having committed the majority of their budgets, he wouldn’t have been able to find many offers that breached seven figures. By waiting a year, he’s able to get a bigger bonus from the White Sox, with Cuban baseball reporter Francys Romero saying Colás will sign for $2.7 million.
Now 23, Colás has filled out, and Baseball America says “his body type, range and athleticism will likely limit him to either left field or first base,” although he tried to do what he could to reverse it with positive impressions of his conditioning at his December workout. The hopes are riding on his bat either way.
While it’s no surprise that the White Sox were able to land a Cuban in his early 20s, it’s noteworthy when the White Sox can manage to sign a Dominican teenage talent. The White Sox hadn’t signed a non-Cuban to a bonus of $1 million since Josue Guerrero back in 2016. That was also the year that the Sox splurged on Luis Robert, so they were prohibited from bonuses higher than $300,000 the next two years, but still. The White Sox’s biggest signings since have gone to Yolbert Sánchez ($2.5 million), Yoelqui Céspedes ($2.050 million) and Norge Vera ($1.5 million), all of whom 1) hailed from Cuba and 2) were at least 20 years old.
So here’s Hernandez, who turns 17 on signing day. He’s a 6-foot, 175-pound lefty-lefty outfielder with a sound approach at the plate. The disparity in evaluations stems from the belief in his power potential. Baseball America says Hernandez has a “hit-over-power profile,” while MLB.com dropped a too-tall comparison on him.
Hernandez’s biggest comp is a lofty one: Juan Soto. Hernandez, like Soto, is a solid hitter as a teen and could hit the ball hard to all fields.
Hernandez has a very advanced approach at the plate and has shown the ability to adjust. He also displayed the ability to handle himself against right-handed and left-handed pitching, which is rare for a prospect his age. Physically, he’s lean and athletic with lots of room to grow and add strength.
That’s great, but it’s hard to take it seriously when the more optimistic of reads ranks him No. 28.
Setting that side, this is a positive development for Marco Paddy and the White Sox. The Cuban connection is indeed a major asset, but the farm system’s struggle to gain and develop the most precocious of talent is perhaps the biggest reason why the prospect list is so shorthanded in the wake of the prospects that required resources other ways (big trades, first-round money). Jose Rodriguez is a terrific success story, and I suspect Bryan Ramos isn’t far behind, but I’ve been waiting to see the White Sox increase their chances for international success by increasing their resources and lengthening the runway, and this is what that would look like.
(Photo by Neko Kabachi)