Zack Collins Demotion a Matter of Circumstance, Not Incompetence

Zack Collins was the 10th overall selection of the 2016 draft. He played in 324 Minor League games across three-plus seasons in the White Sox organization prior to his June 18 call up and showcased a matter of consistency at the plate across advanced-A to triple-A.

That consistency tells the story of the type of hitter Collins is and who he will be as a Major League contributor. From 2016-18, Collins hit .244, .224, and .234. He may swing and miss, but his value lies in his ability to get on base and slug the baseball. Collins managed an .831, .816, and .786 OPS with 40 home runs during that same timeframe.

The Sox knew they were getting a guy with an advanced eye at the plate and plus power from the left side, who so happens to play a valuable position on the diamond; catcher. Collins made his Major League debut on a cold, rainy June 19 evening against the Chicago Cubs and walked. Two days later, he hit his first career home run against the Texas Rangers. He was optioned back to Charlotte July 15th, following seven more appearances with the White Sox.

Albeit small sample size, his professional numbers were not good. Collins slashed .077/.226/.192 in 31 plate appearances (2-for-26) with a home run, five walks and 14 strikeouts. However, his numbers weren’t the reason he was sent back down.

The Sox 25-man roster (and 40-man, for that matter) has been a revolving door this year, which is part of why Collins’ demotion is so fascinating. Pair that with the White Sox lack of faith in his ability to play first base at this point of his career, and the reasons behind the demotion start to become clear.

Since he was drafted, talent evaluators had questions surrounding Collins’ catching abilities. While the 24-year-old has made strides at the position this season and even caught 36 innings of errorless ball behind the plate as a Major Leaguer, Collins’ value is clearly in his bat. The Sox likely want to turn him into a versatile first baseman/catcher/designated hitter because that will be how he provides the most value on the South Side in the not so distant future.

To date, Collins has played just nine career games at first base and they all came at triple-A. He needs more reps and Charlotte is the calling card for such development. In Charlotte, he’ll get consistent playing time, too. Collins played in only nine games across 27 days (21 games) on the Sox, robbing him of a chance to get in any sort of rhythm.

Collins’ influence on the White Sox day-to-day plan runs deeper than just Rick Renteria’s construction of the lineup card. Let’s take a look at some notable roster moves by the organization following Collins’ promotion.

Several changes were influenced by poor performance and injury, which included Yonder Alonso’s presence in the lineup prior to his release. Next came Daniel Palka’s promotion, who joined the club 10 days after Collins was promoted. The decision to recall Palka, at the time, was hard to argue with considering his success at Charlotte.

Palka, Collins, Charlie Tilson and Jon Jay created a logjam of left-handed hitters on the roster. Plus, the Sox likely wanted to avoid setting up Collins for failure at first base, despite their efforts to work with him at the position. To confirm this theory, look no further than Dylan Cease’s first start against Detroit.

Facing left-handed pitcher Daniel Norris, Yolmer Sanchez injured his hand and left the contest. Sanchez was replaced by Jose Rondon, and instead of subbing in Collins, Renteria gave Daniel Palka his first career start at first base. If there ever was a time to give Collins a chance at first, that game was it, and the Sox said, “No.”

With that limitation, along with the fact there is little reason to ever sit James McCann, Collins had few opportunities to get into the lineup.

Collins’ lack of chances took a turn for the worse when former Houston Astro AJ Reed became available. The Sox claiming Reed, whose situation is unique in and of itself, directly affected Collins.

The White Sox are in a position to give Reed the plate appearances needed to potentially catch lighting in a bottle. After acquiring him, the team optioned Palka and promoted Reed at the beginning of the second-half.

However, the return of Welington Castillo acts as the final nail in the demotion coffin. Castillo is one of the few catchers in the organization who can manage the position defensively, and the Sox will use these at-bats to showcase whatever value he has left to contending teams around the league as the trade deadline approaches.

The White Sox used one of Collins’ three Minor League options in their effort to add him to the active roster, and if the organization is still dealing with his options in 2021, the writing may be on the wall at that point.

The jury is out on Collins and what his role will be with the team once they are contending, but there are plenty of reasons to believe he will be back up in September, at the latest.

Considering all of this, Collins’ brief stint at the Major League level wasn’t a waste of time. He had his first sip of big league coffee and was able to work under the tutelage of All-Star catcher McCann. Plus, he homered! So, that’s cool.

While any demotion is bad, his demotion is not as bad as it seems. It was a matter of circumstance and he’ll likely grace the South Side again post trade deadline. Hopefully next time though, Collins will be in the lineup everyday — or every other day, at least.

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