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Collins getting chance to shine with Tigers

Injury to Dirks opens door for No. 17 prospect to get first shot in big leagues

One man's misfortune is another man's opportunity.

When Tigers outfielder Andy Dirks needed back surgery this spring, an outfield position opened on Detroit's roster. Dirks, a left-handed hitter had back surgery and could miss six to eight weeks of the season.

To help replace Dirks, the Tigers had a surprise in store at the end of Spring Training. Even with left-handed-hitting Don Kelly available and on the roster to take the place of Dirks, the Tigers promoted Tyler Collins to the Major League roster. He gives the team an additional left-handed bat, and he can split playing time in left field along with the right-handed-hitting Rajai Davis.

Collins came to the Tigers in the sixth round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. He attended Howard (Texas) College and had a commitment to transfer to Texas Christian University, but he instead chose to sign with Detroit. Collins is ranked No. 17 on the Tigers' Top 20 Prospects list.

Collins played his freshman year at Baylor University and transferred to Howard College for his sophomore season. Prior to his selection in the Draft, he was named the National Junior College Athletic Association National Player of the Year.

I got to see Collins play the outfield in this past Arizona Fall League. Representing the Tigers on the Mesa Solar Sox, he hit .260 with two home runs in 73 at-bats. Collins also scored 16 runs and accepted 15 walks. He made three errors in the outfield, but defense is not his greatest asset. Collins makes his statements with his bat.

Collins is with the parent club because he can hit. He has very good power and has shown an ability to perform well against left-handed pitching. As his walk rate indicates, Collins has good pitch recognition, patience and a knack for being a "difficult out."

Only 23 years old, Collins has had success in his three Minor League campaigns. He hit a composite .313 in his debut season, playing one game for the GCL Tigers (.333) and 42 games at Class A Short Season Connecticut (.313). Collins batted .290 with 35 doubles and 20 stolen bases the following year at Advanced Class A Lakeland. Last year at Double-A Erie, he hit only .240, but he smacked 21 home runs and drove in 79 runs. That was an increase of 14 home runs from Collins' 2012 season.

Following his 2011 season, Collins wanted to gain some additional at-bats, so he played in the Australian Baseball League. He hit well enough to be selected to play in the Australian All-Star Game.

Collins is a strong and burly 5-foot-11, 215 pounds. He has a large lower body that he uses to generate power in his swing. I especially like the way Collins uses the entire field. There were times in the AFL where I saw his swing get long, as he was swinging for the fences.

I saw Collins play a couple games in Spring Training in March. To his credit, the swing was more compact and he was just trying to barrel the ball for base hits. Collins batted just .241 in the spring, but he had three doubles, three triples and three home runs among his 13 spring hits. He also struck out 10 times in his 54 at-bats.

As I evaluate Collins, he is a much better hitter for average than his fall season in Arizona and his Spring Training showed.

I feel Collins profiles best in left field. His arm is not strong and he doesn't have much speed. But to get his bat in the lineup, Collins will certainly be adequate enough to play left. He can also serve as a designated hitter.

At some point, it is likely the Tigers will want Collins playing every day to continue his development. That could certainly happen when Dirks returns.

Given a need for a solid left-handed-hitting outfielder, Collins was in the right place at the right time for Detroit. He has the opportunity to offer them a combination of good hitting ability with some gap power that will be highly appreciated.

Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter.
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