(670 The Score) When the White Sox selected Miami catcher Zack Collins with the No. 10 pick in the 2016 MLB amateur draft, the question was whether he could be good enough defensively to remain behind the plate instead of shifting to first base or designated hitter.
That doubt followed Collins in his rise to the big leagues, but he has proved himself as a catcher this season. Collins is the White Sox’s backup catcher behind Yasmani Grandal, but he has been getting a good deal of playing time, making 21 starts in 60 games as the team looks to keep the 32-year-old Grandal healthy.
As he has played more than ever, Collins has opened eyes within the White Sox for improving his defensive prowess and pitch-calling.
“I have always been a good student of the game,” Collins said. “I have worked hard to learn opponents’ swings and weaknesses while learning my pitchers and how they like to pitch. It has been a process for sure. I have worked to improve while picking a lot of people's brains on how to call games. The goal is to get pitchers to be more comfortable with me as a catcher.”
Collins, 26, acknowledged he heard the doubters question his defensive ability over the years.
“From day one when I was drafted, a lot of people outside of this organization thought I would be a DH or first baseman,” Collins said. "Everyone in this organization, starting with the top brass, always gave me the support and their confidence that I would be the catcher I am proving to be today. Now I have the opportunity to grow with our pitchers.”
With the help of catching instructors Jerry Narron and John Orton, Collins has implemented a new catching style in which he puts one knee down in his setup as he gives the pitcher a signal. That allows bigger catchers like the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Collins to have more mobility behind the plate.
"This makes things easier for me to get into the proper position,” Collins said. “There are only certain guys that can use this method. I think the bigger-body catchers get more out of having one knee down. It helped me a lot. It helped me with confidence. It helped me in blocking balls. It helped me with framing pitches. I came into spring training having never caught that way. I was competing with a lot of good catchers. It was a little foreign for me, but I went right after it and it has worked out well.”
Collins’ growth as a catcher has helped a White Sox pitching staff that is third in MLB with a 3.21 ERA. Collins – who’s hitting .192 with a .633 OPS – wants to continue to grow, and he’ll use any motivation he can find.
“That was definitely something that motivated me to be a good catcher,” Collins said. “I could have taken the easy way out and concentrated on just being a first baseman. But I was always working every offseason to be a better catcher. The work allowed them and me to start seeing results. Once you start seeing results, the sky is the limit from there.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.