Collins learning from new Sox catcher Grandal

The former Miami backstops have worked together in past offseasons

January 17th, 2020

CHICAGO -- Zack Collins spent part of the White Sox hitters mini-camp, which ran from Monday to Wednesday this week, working with at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz.

That pairing was not unusual for the two University of Miami standouts, as Collins has worked with Grandal during the offseason for the better part of 10 years. Now, thanks to a four-year, $73 million free-agent deal that brought the switch-hitting Grandal to Chicago, the two friends are now teammates and part of the same catching crew.

“It is kind of weird, but weird things like that happen,” Collins told during a recent phone interview from Arizona. “I would watch Yonder [Alonso] and Jon Jay and all these guys play when I was 8 years old, and I was on their team last year. It’s crazy to me. But I guess baseball works like that, and we’ve created a great relationship.”

When Collins was a young player just trying to figure out catching, he wanted to be like Grandal, and Grandal, in turn, helped Collins learn the position even before the latter arrived at Miami. Collins now carries a first-round pedigree from the 2016 Draft and 27 games of big league experience with the White Sox, but he still wants to be as accomplished as Grandal.

In Grandal and James McCann, a 2019 All-Star and the White Sox starting catcher last season, Collins has two great veterans to study. While taking part in last week’s Rookie Career Development Program in Miami, Collins spoke of McCann teaching him about carrying over postgame routines, how to prepare for games and how to keep your body feeling good.

Collins made some subtle adjustments in his catching stance, tweaking the way he’s receiving the ball and changing a few things with flexibility by working with Grandal. Collins will stay in Arizona and continue working with Grandal until Jan. 23, when the duo will leave for SoxFest in Chicago. That work has paid off for the 24-year-old Collins in more than the physical moves.

“He’ll tell you straight up that he thinks I’m really, really, really close to being a really, really, really good defensive catcher,” Collins said. “It’s huge for me when a guy like that says something like that to me.

“That gives me a lot of confidence. I’m not a guy who lacks in confidence, but it definitely helps when I know I can make a few adjustments and be at that top-tier level of catching.”

Grandal is also considered one of the game’s best pitch-framers who has a definite plan for each pitcher. Collins is choosing not to worry about his place on the White Sox depth chart and focus more on what he can learn and how he can develop.

“Obviously, I want to be the guy that’s in the big leagues all the time, but them signing Yasmani can be a great thing for me,” Collins said. “I can learn a lot from him. I can use that the rest of my career. I’m still young.”

Collins drew a walk in his first big league plate appearance at Wrigley Field against the Cubs on June 19 last season. He launched a three-run homer in his first at-bat, which came in his first start at Texas on June 21. However, his first stint as an injury replacement for Welington Castillo resulted in a 2-for-26 showing with 14 strikeouts.

Those struggles transformed into a necessary learning process for Collins to see what works and what doesn't work offensively. His September return resulted in a .343 on-base percentage over 71 plate appearances and pushed him confidently into the new season.

Collins' confidence behind the plate is growing as well with the help of Grandal. It's that ability to handle the position and his catching intangibles dictating where Collins’ future lies.

“He looks really good. He is fit,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s been working hard. His swing looks really good. He’s going to hit. The kid is going to hit. The question now is to continue to develop his catching skills. He’s been working on that. He’s on a trek to try to better himself all the way around.”

“We have two veteran catchers to pick their brains a little bit and just better myself,” Collins said. “As of right now, they are probably the [Nos.] 1 and 2 guys, and I’m going to learn as much as I can from them and continue to work hard and hopefully get the chance to prove myself in the big leagues. The only thing I can do is continue to work hard, continue to get better.”