White Sox catcher Zack Collins goes deep, plugs away at catching skills

Zack Collins hit his second homer of the spring. He and Rick Renteria say his defense is coming along, too.

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Zack Collins of the White Sox tags out Jeff Mathis of the Texas Rangers at home plate in the sixth inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington on June 22, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Zack Collins is an offense-first catcher who has held his own defensively this spring.

If Collins does that, the White Sox will take it, especially if the left-handed hitter carries on with the type of offense he demonstrated late last season and this spring.

“I feel like I’ve always kind of held my own, but I feel like I’m definitely where I need to be defensively right now,” Collins, 25, said Sunday. “I feel great with what I’ve been doing and how I’ve been handling pitching staffs and older guys, and also framing and all the mechanical things have been there, too.”

Collins’ immediate catching future became fuzzy with the arrival of $73 million free agent Yasmani Grandal. Fellow 2019 All-Star James McCann (on a one-year, $5.4 million deal) is in front of him, too, and Collins, a 2016 first-round pick, figures to open the season at Class AAA Charlotte but push for a place on the big-league roster.

“A big thing [this spring] was to prove that I can stay behind the plate,” Collins said. “Obviously, that’s every year for me, and I think I’ve done that. And I think that they’re happy with me, and I’m happy myself.”

The happiness probably carries over to his hitting, too. Collins hit his second home run of the spring in a split-squad game Sunday against left-hander Kris Bubic, the Royals’ minor-league player of the year, according to Baseball America. He is 5-for-16, including a double, and drew his eighth walk in 11 games. The ability to draw walks with a sharp batting eye and hit the long ball will always have value.

Now, if Collins can just prove himself defensively. Manager Rick Renteria says he has seen some improvement in that regard.

“He’s maturing first and foremost,” Renteria said. “He’s understanding the work he’s putting in is going to pay huge dividends. He’s receiving much better. He’s working with the pitchers much better. The communication is much better. Everything in his blocking game is improving. Any number of things we’ve asked him to do behind the plate, he’s trying to show us he’s capable of doing it.”

Collins played in 27 games in his first major-league season last year, spending much of his time on the bench picking up pointers from McCann and taking pregame ground balls at first base. He batted .186/.307/.349 with three homers but finished with 12 hits in his last 42 at-bats, including two home runs.

He says he’s keeping his eyes and ears open around Grandal, whom he has known since age 14 with their Miami connection, and McCann, who mentored him last season.

“I’m a lot more mature [at camp this year], definitely,” Collins said. “And more comfortable. And way better of a player, I would say — not that I was a bad player before, but I learned a lot, how to deal with pitchers and call games. The hitting stays the same, just a few adjustments here and there.

“Having the two All-Stars in front of me, I can learn from them. They have both been up and down in the big leagues and have learned from older guys.

“Just get better every day. That’s the name of the game until you’re done playing. I’m in a good spot right now. I can learn a lot from the two guys ahead of me.”

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