The Chicago White Sox drafted catcher Zack Collins in the first-round (10th overall) out of the University of Miami in this year’s amateur draft. Collins is a left-handed-hitting backstop with a good eye at the plate and above average power. The 21 year-old had a short stint in rookie ball before being promoted to High-A Winston-Salem, where he will likely finish the rest of his season. Collins was rated Chicago’s number one prospect in FutureSox’s midseason rankings publication. Zack was kind enough to talk to FutureSox about draft night, his hitting approach, and what he needs to do to stick behind the plate.
Owen Schoenfeld: Let’s talk about draft night. I’m sure that was definitely a cool experience for you, what was that whole process like?
Zack Collins: Well I had a bunch of friends and family at a restaurant and they had a big screen. MLB Network was there. When I heard my name get called it was a surreal feeling. Even though it was pretty early in the draft, it took a long time. Those first ten picks take like 45 minutes. We were sitting there waiting for awhile and there were just a lot of nerves and emotions going on, but it was just a great night overall and I couldn’t be any happier.
OS: You had a baseball cap for each team ready on draft night. Did you not have any idea where you would go? Was it really that up in the air?
ZC: Yeah, I mean I sort of had a clue but just wanted to get all thirty just to make sure. Actually my girlfriend did that because if you just guessed which team, and another team picks you and you don’t have the hat, it would be less than ideal. We returned all the hats so it worked out perfectly.
OS: One of your best skills is your plate discipline. Did you always have a natural eye at the plate or is it something you struggled with initially and developed overtime?
ZC: No, I’ve never really struggled with it but I think I’ve obviously developed a little bit better of an eye overtime and seen better pitching. My dad has always thrown BP to me and stuff like that. He’s always tough on me, throwing all kinds of different pitches and just making sure that I swing at all the strikes. That’s kind of how I developed it.
OS: Was your dad one of your mentors then, teaching you the game at a young age?
ZC: Yeah, he’s been literally my coach since I was two and a half years old; ever since I swung my first bat. He’s always been the one that threw me BP and he coached my little league teams up until pretty much high school. He’s been to every game and he’s always video taping me, telling me what I’m doing wrong and all that. He’s always the one that’s there.
OS: With power hitters plate discipline is always a plus. You obviously have power but are you the type of hitter that can kind of turn it on and off, where you can actively try to hit a home run or just hit for contact depending on what the situation dictates?
ZC: I mean there are a couple different situations where you want to hit the ball deep into the outfield or obviously hit a home run when you’re down by one in the bottom of the ninth or something like that, but I try to stay even-keeled. I just stick to my approach and let the barrel do the work. I kind of have the natural ability to hit the ball pretty far so I don’t try to do too much and really just try to be an all-around hitter.
OS: As far as defense, what do you think is something you need to improve on to stick behind the plate?
ZC: I mean everything. I think that once you get to this level, everyone’s just as good if not better than you. You have to keep working on everything, whether it’s blocking, receiving, footwork, your arm strength, anything – including hitting. I’ve always been a really good hitter but at this level there’s a lot of guys like me. I have to keep improving, just put up the numbers, make sure I keep my pitching staff where they need to be, control the game when I’m in the game, and just have fun.
OS: To expand on the game calling dimension a bit, is that something you enjoy? How do you try to establish a rapport with a pitcher?
ZC: Since I’ve only been here about a week or so, it’s hard to get to every pitcher and know what they like and don’t like that quickly; but we’ve been working a lot and talking a lot, being that I call pitches. They shake off too if they don’t want something and that’s just a learning process. I think it’s a lot better, the game moves a lot faster and pitchers get to throw what they want in certain situations. That’s good for them because they know their strengths better than anyone else. It’s my job to make sure that they’re comfortable and throwing strikes and getting outs.
OS: You mentioned the game being faster between pro ball and college ball, what are some of the other big differences between the two, such as the preparation, atmosphere, etc.?
ZC: Well I mean a lot of hitters are very aggressive, where as in college you’re taking a strike or not being as aggressive but rather trying to get that starter out of the game because for a lot of college teams, their bullpen isn’t their strength. That’s pretty much the total opposite here. In a lot of the bullpens here the guys throw hard and are really good, so there’s a lot of guys that are aggressive. The pitchers are better, they throw more strikes, throw more types of pitches for strikes, and that speeds up the game.
OS: Another difference is probably the wooden versus aluminum bats. How’s that transition been for you?
ZC: I mean I can honestly say that these wood bats with these minor league balls are better than the BBCOR bats. You have to hit it on the barrel though, that’s the only thing. BBCOR doesn’t break, with the wooden bats if you get it on the barrel it goes, but if you don’t, it won’t. I mean I’ve seen tons of broken bats but sometimes it’s not even because of the swing but because people get too mad at themselves after they get out and they just slam the bat and break it in half. (Laughs) I’m not going to do that because I need every bat I can get.
OS: In general, are the minors what you expected or not so much?
ZC: No it’s what I expected. I have a lot of friends in pro ball and they’ve all told me what it’s like and it’s exactly what they said. It’s all just baseball and sleep and fun. It’s great.
OS: Is there anyone on the Dash that you already knew or were friends with beforehand?
ZC: Actually I played with Nick Basto when I was younger. He’s always lived around the area where I lived. I actually played one tournament with Thaddius Lowry, a pitcher on our team, so I’ve known those guys for a little bit. I’ve become good friends with a lot of guys on the team. Everyone’s been great to me.
OS: What baseball player would you say is your major league comp of sorts, someone you either try to emulate or just think your game is similar to?
ZC: I would say Brian McCann. I don’t think there’s anyone else I could possibly think of. Brian McCann at a young age, and still now, was a big time power hitter, hit for average too, and was an above average catcher behind the plate. That’s what I look to be and that’s what I look to do for any team. When he used to be with the Braves, they used to play against the Marlins and I used to go there and watch him. He’s always been really good.
OS: You experienced a concussion a couple weeks ago, was that during a game?
ZC: Yeah, it was during a game. I got a couple foul tips straight off my mask and I just got a really bad headache. It wasn’t too bad. It was just more of a precautionary thing to not go out there and try to work through it because it’s a long season and it’s been a long year.
OS: If you could script the perfect way to finish off your 2016 season and leave with some positives before the offseason, what would that look like?
ZC: I think just staying healthy and having fun. I mean you can’t really control a lot in this game and I just want get better everyday and work my way towards the top. If I just work hard everyday and worry about winning and doing whatever’s good for team then I think everything will take care of itself and I’ll be fine.
FutureSox would like to thank Zack Collins for carving out time in his day to talk to us. We’d also like to extend a thanks to Brian Boesch and the Winston-Salem Dash for making this interview possible. To find out more about Zack, you can check out his prospect profile here.
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