Zack Collins (and his questions) are reportedly coming to Chicago

As long as the White Sox have been rebuilding for the second time after they threw in the towel on the first one, White Sox fans have been at odds with each other and the front office about the timing of promotions. Whether it’s Michael Kopech, Yoan Moncada, Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito or Eloy Jiménez, all could’ve been called up earlier. Dylan Cease is the subject of that debate right now, although two consecutive duds have tempered the enthusiasm a little.

The through-line is simple: The White Sox seem hellbent on not being accused of rushing a prospect, and sometimes they profit handsomely by doing so.

It’s different with catchers due to scarcity and specificity of skills. If a catcher goes down, there’s usually only one other playable option. Depending on the health of guys in the upper minors, sometimes you end up with Alfredo Gonzalez. It’s a refreshingly straightforward question of whether the prospect is ready enough. Or sometimes it’s reshaped into a sentence, like, “I’ll guess we’ll see how ready he is.”

Seby Zavala fell into the latter group when Welington Castillo suffered the concussion last month. Zavala didn’t look like he found a groove at Charlotte, yet he was the default replacement as the 40-man roster’s third catcher. Rick Renteria tried to play him as sparingly as possible, but Zavala went 1-for-9 with seven strikeouts, and now he’s back trying to solve Triple-A pitching.

Rather than throw Zavala into the deep end a second time — the first is a misjudgment of ability, everything afterward is child endangerment — the White Sox are reportedly going around Zavala and adding Zack Collins to the 40-man roster instead.

Assuming the report from the Miami radio station is correct, this move feels more purposeful all over because Collins potentially represents a better use of time at multiple positions.

Castillo was lifted from a game after he jogged to first on a wall ball, and he’s apparently heading to the injured list with lower back tightness. That move lies in stark contrast with Moncada, who remains active despite upper back tightness that took him out of the only game he’s played over the last four days. A positional overhaul seems premature since Collins’ catching skills are still surrounded by scaffolding, but Castillo’s entire White Sox career has been enough of a disappointment that a greater shift is possible.

But Collins has also played first base of late in Charlotte, while Yonder Alonso has barely played at all. Alonso has just 20 plate appearances to his name in June after starting damn near everyday over April and May. He’s just 2-for-18 over those plate appearances, so there’s writing on the wall behind him.

The question is whether Collins is the man to make these changes permanent at this time. Questions are nothing new for Collins, who has been one of the more divisive White Sox prospects ever since the White Sox drafted him. The debate first centered on his catching skills, but when Collins failed to hit even .240 at Winston-Salem or Birmingham in his two full seasons, the discussion shifted to whether Collins would ever be able to hit enough to play elsewhere.

He still hasn’t answered either of these questions in his fourth pro season, but he’s wedged the door open with an uptick at Charlotte. He’s hitting .250/.374/.482 over 50 games at Triple-A, but because it’s Collins, even that kind of respectable line is complicated. He’s got some massive split disparities that render any average incapable of representing Collins in any one place against any one opponent.

Handedness:

  • vs. RHP: .268/.400/.512, 18.75% BB, 27.5% K
  • vs. LHP: .189/.283/.378, 13.0% BB, 47.8% K

Home/road:

  • Home: .284/.381/.580, 14.4% BB, 33.0% K
  • Road: .217/.367/.386, 20.2% BB, 31.2% K

Pre-concussion/post-concussion:

  • Pre: .256/.370/.581, 16.7% BB, 32.4% K
  • Post: .244/.378/.372, 18% BB, 31.6% K

Collins is no stranger to exploding for a few weeks, then receding for the rest. He was briefly a revelation in Birmingham last season, posting a 1048 OPS in May at the same time he said he reverted to his college approach. That OPS was 300 points higher than any one he posted over the remaining four months. The incredible hitting environment at Charlotte this year only adds to the noise.

His patience at the plate has been his game’s lone constant keeping his prospect candidacy afloat. While other areas of his game have fluctuated, he’s a lock to walk about 18-19 percent of the time, which is rare in the White Sox farm system. The question has always been whether those walks are truly earned, or whether they’re something he stumbles into because he’s passive or just can’t put earlier hittable strikes in play. If plate discipline without works is dead, I’m expecting a Moncada rookie redux with a lot of bad counts and backwards K’s.

Collins probably can’t start answering those questions immediately. If he should be only started sparingly behind the plate and exclusively against right-handed pitching, the Cubs series at Wrigley Field won’t be the time or place for it. The Sox will face a pair of lefties in Jon Lester and Cole Hamels, and there’s no DH spot, either.

But once American League play returns, we should have a better idea of the Sox’ true plans for Collins. If he’s just here to fulfill backup catcher obligations, then we won’t see much of him, and we’ll see Castillo as soon as he’s able. But between giving James McCann time off and potentially giving Alonso the boot, the Sox will have ways to finally test Collins’ mettle if they can stomach the potential empty at-bats. Fortunately, the guys he would replace have spent just about the entire season coming up empty themselves.

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Jim Margalus
Jim Margalus

Writing about the White Sox for a 16th season, first here, then at South Side Sox, and now here again. Let’s talk curling.

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soxfan

According to baseball-reference, 73% of plate appearances so far have come against RHP. So assuming Collins is strictly a platoon backup at 3 positions and the occasional PH, what’s his ceiling? Maybe not what we would’ve liked as a 10th pick but that’s far from a bust, right?

mikeyb

If he’s the strong side of a platoon and can hold his own at Catcher, I’m actually going to be very happy with that result. If catching isn’t in the cards, it certainly dampens the mood, but there’s still upside there if he can hit RHP at the major league level.

andyfaust

If he can stick in the bigs, even as a platoon guy, that’s a big check mark in the “positive” column when weighing how the rebuild is going. I’m excited for him, for now at least. This needed to happen. Good luck Zack.

HallofFrank

in 2019, Collins looks to fit in well. If Collins can catch twice a week and be a serviceable 1B/DH three or four days a week once Yonder is gone, that would be nice. 

Where I am less clear is where Collins fits 2020 and beyond. A big factor will be James McCann. This year, McCann has actually been better against LHP (.888 OPS) than RHP (.866 OPS). I still expect some kind of regression from McCann, so perhaps he and Collins form a good platoon pair. 

But at this point, I don’t like the idea of giving Collins the lion’s share of starts at C nor him being a platoon bat for 1B/DH. If we somehow fill DH with a legit bat, Collins’ path to playing time is less clear. Maybe it’s something like 2 starts at C per week, one at DH, one at 1B, and being a bench bat for 2? Maybe that’s generally what he is for the future. If’s he’s OPS-ing .850+ against RHP and is serviceable at C, surely he’ll fit in somewhere. 

PauliePaulie

If they decide against trading McCann this year, sign Grandal, have McCann catch 1 day per week and DH vs. LHP, while Collins is 1B/DH vs. RHP and an emergency back-up at C.

Foulkelore

I’m glad I refreshed. I was just going to post exactly this in a less succinct way. Those are my exact thoughts to the best plan in 2020.

NorthSideHitman

Why would they sign Grandal when they didn’t go after him last offseason? I’m happy with McCann as the primary Sox catcher for next year.

karkovice squad

Because he won’t have draft pick compensation attached now and they won’t have Castillo’s salary on the books.

NorthSideHitman

Thanks for clarifying. Draft pick comp makes sense but if a 7.2M salary would have been a deterrent for signing Grandal, then this rebuild is going nowhere. Until the Sox actually start signing quality FAs,I will continue to be skeptical of the future.

MrTopaz

And Grandal has a track record of being very good, rather than a half season blip.

andyfaust

Well stated HoFrank, I think that is the concern of most of us. Even if he hits his ceiling, he is an oddly shaped puzzle piece in this rebuild.

roke1960

Collins could have a nice niche in 2020 and beyond, even if they sign Grandal. Next year should have Grandal at catcher, with McCann backing him up and Collins as a 3rd catcher for emergencies. He could then be the 1b/DH against righties, even after Vaughn gets there. a 2021 lineup with Grandal at catcher, Vaughn, Madrigal, Timmy, Yoan in the infield, Eloy, Robert and either a big FA or one of the prospects breaking through in the outfield, with Collins at DH/backup catcher looks good.

Neat_on_the_rocks

Joc Pederson is almost exclusively a platoon bat, he should never bat against lefties. He has been a useful player for the Dodgers.

As weird as the comp is Joc Pederson is actually a *very* good comp for Collins’ roll. Platoon lefty that will get a lot of ABs because there are a lot of Right handed Pitchers- Low average, high OPS numbers from both guys. If Collins’ ceiling is mainly a platoon Righty Destroyer, offensively that will be enough to carry good value

Of course, this does not address the elephant of the room – Defense. The offensive roll I described above will actually be insanely valuable if he can be a true backup catcher. if he can start 60 games a year at catcher, with maybe 60 games coming from DH/1B – that is a guy that can actually end up piecing together very valuable seasons despite only playing 120 games/year.

it will all depend on if he can be an acceptable catcher.

lil jimmy

I don’t see him being brought up to sit. If he hits instead of Yonder, that’s one less at bat toward Alonzo’s option.

Brett R. Bobysud

I think McCann is gonna catch both games at Wrigley and if Collins gets in, it’ll be as a PH against a righty reliever.

lil jimmy

I think they sit Alonzo, and the kid plays.

evenyoudorn

Hope for left-handed Mike Napoli, but with way worse platoon splits?

I’d love to be wrong, but I’m not really high on Collins. But hey, I was all about putting Flowers in the trashcan, so what do I know.

TheBigHrabosky

The Sox shouldn’t have thrown a certain right-fielder in the trash can last winter, too.

Right Size Wrong Shape

Alex Call?

karkovice squad

They’re not the Rays and wouldn’t be getting anything like this production from him. They’d be paying twice as much for maybe half the value.

Smclean09

I mean his contact/discipline/exit velocity and xOBA make last year look like the outlier.

karkovice squad

I mean he has a career high in launch angle, a career low in GB/FB ratio, is clobbering fastballs at a career high rate, and playing the best defense of his career.

But yeah, he totally would’ve had the same rebound with the Sox

Smclean09

Then he followed the career trajectory he was heading on 2 years ago when he improved in all those areas and despite a sky high BaBip, he was underperforming according to his Xslug. Glad we agree

Soxfan2

I’m not expecting Collins to rake but he doesn’t have to. He will be taking at bats away from Alonso (60 wRC+) and Castillo (78 wRC+). If he puts up like an 85 wRC+, thats 7-25% increase in offensive production from those spots.

Digger910

I’m just genuinely excited that a thing is happening. This is a thing.  I hope he comes up and smacks the shit out of the ball for a few years. 

iowasox1971

The bar has been set so low by Castillo and Yonder that even if this kid hits .220 with average power and OK on-base stats, he’s a big improvement. Have him split time between catcher, first base and DH, and see how he does. Don’t have Collins face only right-handed pitchers, he should get used to facing lefties as well, although he probably should get the day off if and when the White Sox play Boston and Sale is pitching.
Collins probably won’t be great on defense behind the plate, but he can’t be much worse than Castillo has been. Can he? We might as well see what we have and if he appears overmatched behind the plate, then we might have to make a move for Grandal during the offseason.