GM says prospect Oscar Colas could be White Sox’ right fielder in 2023

LAS VEGAS — Don’t sleep on top prospect Oscar Colas as a potential Opening Day starter in right field, general manager Rick Hahn said.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily too much of an ask,” Hahn said at baseball’s general managers meetings Tuesday.

And, reading between the lines, don’t be surprised if Andrew Vaughn is standing in Colas’ sight line at first base.

“Vaughn is a first baseman,” Hahn said.

As the Sox look this offseason to piece together the broken chunks strewn about the 2022 floor, Hahn said he expects their seventh-ranked payroll to be in the same vicinity as last season ($197 million), and he reiterated that trades over free agency are the most likely avenue for improving the roster.

“We’ll head to camp and see where we’re at,” Hahn said of the Cuban born Colas, 24 . “Obviously there will be offseason check-ins as well and see where the progress is at. But he impressed us last year and is on a real good trajectory to contribute in a meaningful way as soon as next year.”

Colas, who batted .314.371.524 with 23 homers and an .895 OPS in 117 games at three levels including seven at Triple-A Charlotte in 2022, would provide a left-handed bat for a right-hand heavy lineup. His posted his workouts on Instagram have captured some interest.

“That’s a good indicator,” Hahn said with a smile. “That’s the Luis Robert model. He’s working hard. The acclimation period is behind him now, now it’s just a matter of showing that he’s ready and belongs in the big leagues. We believe in this kid. We think a lot of Oscar Colas. Don’t lose sight of that.

“I don’t want him to get lost in your offseason analyses of where we are.”

Hahn also pointed to Eloy Jimenez’ success as a designated hitter, so it stands to reason that will be the primary spot for the slugger who batted .274/.343/ .500 with an .843 OPS with 11 homers in 50 games as a DH in 2022. AJ Pollock will not be part of the club, and should the Sox acquire a left fielder with sound defensive skill, they would field a significantly better outfield with Robert in center and the Colas in right.

Vaughn played out of position, Hahn acknowledged, and “his best defensive position is first base and perhaps getting him [settled] into that position you’re asking a lot less of him and perhaps that it even increases his offensive production as a result.”

Vaughn at first would again suggest star first basemanJose Abreu, a free agent who has played his entire career with the Sox, is allowed to walk. It seems to be where the Sox are headed.

“If he’s not with us next year he’ll be missed,” Hahn said. “It’s good that we’re insulated from a production standpoint against that departure. But certainly would never disrespect the importance he’s meant to this organization.”

Hahn is banking on improvement from players who underperformed or were not healthy or a combination of both, “to get back to accustomed levels.”

“A big part of our improvement will come from that area, we hope,” he said.

As for payroll, Hahn said it’s not set yet and that the budget process is still being processed internally. Colas in right and Vaughn at first would allow for more payroll flexibility elsewhere. A second baseman and starting pitching are two potential places to spend.

“My general expectations are that [payroll] will be somewhere in the vicinity of where it was in 2022 but I don’t have a firm number in hand just yet,” Hahn said. “If I did have a firm number I doubt I would declare it to the world so everyone knows ‘He’s got this left or he needs to get relief here to make a deal.’ ”

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