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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.
- vs. RHP: .268/.400/.512, 18.75% BB, 27.5% K
- vs. LHP: .189/.283/.378, 13.0% BB, 47.8% K
- Home: .284/.381/.580, 14.4% BB, 33.0% K
- Road: .217/.367/.386, 20.2% BB, 31.2% K
- 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.