Collins: 'I should be that guy' on OD roster

March 18th, 2021

CHICAGO -- firmly believes he should be part of the 2021 White Sox Opening Day roster.

“One hundred percent,” Collins said Thursday morning during a conversation with from Glendale, Ariz. “I think if I’m not, then it’s a mistake.”

Some people might balk at such confidence from the catcher who was the White Sox top pick in the 2016 Draft, especially with a career .167 average and .286 on-base percentage on his resume. But those numbers come from inconsistent playing time across the 2019-20 seasons, covering a mere 120 plate appearances, and the left-handed hitter is a thoroughly changed player.

Let’s start with 2021 Cactus League action for the 26-year-old. Collins leads the team with a .429 average and a 1.110 OPS, ranking second behind Matt Reynolds with his .571 slugging percentage.

OK, it's a small sample size in games not counting towards anything but preparation. But Collins also has altered his offensive approach, much like Yoán Moncada did after his 217 strikeouts during the 2018 season, with the duo’s exceptional knowledge of the strike zone sometimes hindering more than helping. That change has produced one strikeout and five walks for Collins over 21 at-bats in Cactus League play.

“I’ve been swinging a lot more often,” Collins said. “Still taking my walks, but it’s me striking out a lot less, which is why I think you see the average a lot higher, the OPS higher and all that kind of stuff. I’m swinging early in counts now. Just being aggressive and putting balls in play, and good things are happening.

“Obviously, through the lower levels, you can control counts, even behind in the count. But once you get to the high levels, they can throw anything at any point. So, you have to be ready to hit everything. I’m going to be a little bit more aggressive and swinging in the zone. I’m not trying to chase anything outside the zone. My eye is good enough to where I won’t do that naturally.”

Collins has been an everyday player from the time he started playing baseball until the time he reached the Majors. But even if Collins breaks camp with the White Sox, the best he could hope for is the No. 2 catcher’s spot and potentially splitting time at designated hitter. So, how does that sporadic playing time help a burgeoning young talent already hampered by this type of experience?

There’s already been a great deal gained through Collins’ working friendship with Yasmani Grandal, whom Collins has known since Grandal played at the University of Miami and with whom he worked in the offseason. The preparation has shown in Collins’ handling of the pitchers during Spring Training, with Collins now catching from a knee, and in his improved pitch framing.

“Yasmani has signed a pretty big deal with us, so he’s definitely going to be the main guy,” Collins said. “But just me being there, learning from him and being able to get more experience up in the show, it’s definitely what I think is best for me.”

“He's progressed a lot. He's put in a lot of work,” said White Sox Opening Day starter Lucas Giolito of Collins. “Last year, constantly talking with [James] McCann and Yaz, understanding the game better. … He's reading the hitters, he's working counts, he's really paying attention to scouting and all the things that you need to be a complete catcher.”

Giolito threw to Collins during Wednesday’s 4-3 loss to the Dodgers, and it has been important for Collins to capably work with the White Sox ace, as well as other veterans such as Lance Lynn and closer Liam Hendriks. Basically, Collins feels as confident as he has as a professional player.

White Sox manager Tony La Russa has praised this catching crew all camp, and Collins readily acknowledges they have been employing “six great catchers” with Yermín Mercedes, Jonathan Lucroy, Seby Zavala and Carlos Perez joining Grandal and Collins. But there’s nothing wrong with Collins stressing he belongs in the big leagues.

“I’ve done everything they’ve asked me to do the last couple of years,” Collins said. “Worked on my body, worked on my approach, my defense, everything is continuing to grow. I’ve got nothing but high praise out of it. So, I don’t see a reason why I shouldn’t be.

“I feel like I made strides defensively, offensively. I feel like I’ve performed pretty much as good as I possibly can. Just trying to show them that I should be that guy and mainly just playing as good as I can for myself and having as much fun as I can.”

With all of this positive energy, Collins hasn’t given much thought to not breaking camp with the team.

“I’m not sure how I would handle it yet,” Collins said. “But I definitely won’t be happy, that’s for sure.”