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Doubters motivate White Sox’ prized catching prospect

Zack Collins

GLENDALE, Ariz. — First-round draft choice Zack Collins can hit. He’ll have to prove he can catch at the major-league level, some scouts say.

The White Sox believe he can. Collins, as you’d expect, is confident he can.

“A lot of teams were kind of doubting whether I could catch,’’ Collins said. “So I just work my butt off to prove people wrong. Honestly, that’s the best thing people could have said about me — that I couldn’t catch.’’

One of the best hitters in the draft, the Sox selected Collins 10th overall last June, drooling at the luxury of a good bat wrapped around a premium defensive position and checking off two organizational needs: catching and left-handed hitting. Collins, who projects as a 25-homer guy, some say, might make a swift climb to the majors like left-handed-hitting college catcher Kyle Schwarber did — because of his bat.

Schwarber, who has more raw power, wanted to prove he could catch but is primarily an outfielder now.

“They kind of expect you to catch as well as you can hit, which is tough to do,’’ Collins said. “We’re kind of in the same boat, although he’s more prestigious right now. Follow his same path but stay behind the plate.’’

Sox minor-league catching coordinator John Orton, for one, believes Collins will. When the Sox drafted Collins, Orton went to watch him catch for the Miami Hurricanes.

“I heard all the talk of worries about his catching and said, ‘I’m going to take a look at this guy,’ ’’ Orton said. “After the first inning, the way he received and moved back there, I said, ‘Yeah, this guy can catch at the higher level.’ ’’

Orton first looks at hands, how a catcher moves behind the plate, footwork and receiving. Those things looked good to him, and he thinks Collins will be a good pitch-framer because he has good hands. The skill Collins lacks is throwing, not arm strength but “the timing of the footwork and when the ball comes out of the hand where the throws are accurate,’’ Orton said.

Orton says throwing, while important, is not at the top of the list of priorities for a catcher. And it’s a teachable skill, and Collins strikes him as a learner.

“He’s a smart kid, wants to learn and learns quick, which is a sign of intelligence, obviously,’’ Orton said. “Passionate.’’

And motivated.

“I’m here to prove everyone wrong who thinks I can’t catch at the big-league level,’’ he said. “That’s my position, and that’s where I want to stick.’’

Collins is rated fourth among catching prospects behind the Cardinals’ Carson Kelly, the Indians’ Francisco Mejia and the Phillies’ Jorge Alfaro. Kelly and Alfaro have already had a taste of the majors.

Collins, who hit .258 with six home runs in 36 games at Class A Winston-Salem after producing a .363/.544/.668 slash line with 16 homers at Miami his junior season, figures to begin the season at the high Class A level again.

For now, he’s soaking in his first major-league camp.

“It’s been amazing,’’ Collins said. “Honestly, it’s kind of surreal to me. I’m so young and just a couple of years ago, I was watching Todd Frazier and watching James Shields throw [as a fan]. Now, sitting here in the same locker room as them and playing with them —it is crazy to me.

“I’m excited for this year. We have a lot of great young talent, and it’s a very exciting time to be a White Sox player.’’

Follow me on Twitter @CST_soxvan.
Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com