GLENDALE, AZ – When Oscar Colas wakes up every morning and thinks about baseball, there’s an empty feeling in his stomach.
Food won’t satisfy this particular craving. Only one thing will.
“I wake up every day hungry. I want to win. I want to win every day. I want to win. That’s why we’re here. I want to win a championship. I’m definitely hungry for that,” Colas said through team translator Billy Russo in an interview on the White Sox Talk Podcast.
His desire to win is evident not only in spring training games, but even on days when Colas is on the bench, as manager Pedro Grifol learned last Saturday against the Padres. The left-handed hitting Colas wasn’t in the lineup, but Grifol told him to be ready to pinch hit if a right-handed pitcher came out of the bullpen.
“He was wanting to hit the whole game. He probably asked me 3-4 times if I could get him an at-bat,” Grifol said about Colas. “As soon as they brought in a righty, I looked back and he already had his stuff on.”
Colas didn’t just tell Grifol that he wanted to hit—he promised his manager that if given an at-bat, he was going deep.
“Since the game started, I was ready to play. I was walking around the dugout, getting ready and it’s true. I asked (Grifol) a couple of times, ‘Give me a chance. Give me a chance. I want to play. I want to do something,’” Colas said. “It didn’t happen until the end when he called on me and said, ‘Okay, now it’s your turn.’ And I told him, ‘I’m ready. I’m going to hit a homer.’ When I got into the box, I was ready, I was excited and I knew that something good would come from it.
“I was telling him throughout the game. ‘I’m going to hit a homer. I’m going to hit a homer. Give me a chance.’ Even the game before that, I was telling him that, too.”
True to his word, Colas launched a 1-1 breaking ball from Padres reliever Drew Carlton over the fence, over the bullpen, and over the fans in the right field burn. They could only watch as the ball sailed high over their heads.
“It felt good, because I was asking for that chance and I told Pedro that I would hit a homer,” Colas explained. “When I hit it, it was a little surprise, like, ‘Wow, I really did it! I was right.’ That’s why it felt so special.”
One month into spring training, Colas has looked very special at the plate. In 15 games, he’s batting .364/.382/.576 and has only one strikeout in 34 plate appearances. Spring training statistics can be misleading. Pitchers are usually focused more on throwing their pitches than retiring a specific hitter like Colas. Still, his numbers and mature approach at the plate have impressed both players and coaches.
“He’s a sponge when it comes to the offensive side of the game,” White Sox hitting coach Jose Castro said about Colas.
And he’s been following the lead of two veteran players who have lockers nearby: Elvis Andrus and Hanser Alberto.
“They’re always talking to me. Giving me advice about how to do things the right way and how to improve and get to the level that they are,” Colas said about Andrus and Alberto. “They’re veterans and they know what they need to do to get to that level.”
“The complete package,” is how Andrus described Colas. “We all know his power, but I think he’s being a hitter right now, which I love. I think it’s very hard when you’re that young, for him knowing he’s got an opportunity to train at camp with us, and he’s not panicking.”
To reach the major leagues and succeed there, Colas wants to be more than a one-dimensional hitter. Home runs are great, but so are singles to the left side on an 0-2 count against a lefty which Colas did earlier in camp. He also doesn’t want to sit on days when the White Sox are facing southpaws. Judging by his eye-popping numbers against lefties in the minors last season, that probably won’t happen, or shouldn’t. In 115 plate appearances, Colas hit .362/.417/.533.
“I feel very comfortable facing lefties and righties,” Colas explained. “I figured that it’s more of a mental game, because before when I was facing a lefty, it was like, ‘Oh, I’m facing a lefty’ and I would panic a little bit, because I knew he made me a little uncomfortable, but I started working on that ever since last season started. The results have been there. I feel more comfortable facing lefties now. To me now, it’s not much of a difference facing righties or lefties.”
With the start of the regular season a little more than two weeks away, the 24-year-old Colas, despite playing only 7 games in Triple-A, is pushing hard to make the team.
“That’s my goal definitely, but that decision is not in my hands. That’s in Pedro’s hands and the staff. They will make the decision that they feel they need to make,” Colas said.
If he does break camp with the team, it will be one of many firsts for Colas. His first time in the majors and his first time ever setting foot in Chicago. He’s never been there in his life.
“I just know that (Chicago) is where I’m going to play baseball and that it’s cold there,” he said smiling.
Besides his hitting and fielding, Colas is also working on his English.
“Everyday I practice,” Colas said in English. “My teacher is Billy Russo. He says everyday, ‘Come on, practice. And don’t be afraid.’”
If there’s one English word that might be his favorite, it’s “winning.”
Colas hopes to be doing that in Chicago in the near future.