Southern notes: Collins stays positive

No. 8 White Sox prospect determined to improve his defense

Zack Collins leads the Minors with 74 walks but also has allowed 11 passed balls with the Double-A Barons. (Brian McLeod/MiLB.com)

By Guy Curtright / Special to MiLB.com | July 12, 2018 10:00 AM

When the White Sox split up their top catching prospects after the Southern League All-Star Game, it was Seby Zavala -- not Zack Collins -- who was promoted from Birmingham to Triple-A Charlotte.

"They wanted an opportunity for both of them to catch more. It just happened that Seby went up there," Barons manager Ryan Newman said.

Collins, the 10th overall pick in the 2016 Draft out of the University of Miami, took the decision as a kick in the you-know-where, though.

"I'm not afraid to say that. I'd assume it would be a kick in the butt for anybody," said Collins. "They obviously felt that he was the one they needed to move up. But I'm by no means mad or anything like that. I'm just going to keep working hard and compete."

Although Collins is ranked No. 94 among MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects and the No. 4 catcher, the 23-year-old continues to be a work in progress behind the plate.

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Zavala, taken in the 12th round a year before Collins out of San Diego State, also swings a power bat and right now is more polished defensively.

"There were some things said that I kind of took to heart and I'm working on my catching all that I can," said Collins, ranked as the No. 8 White Sox prospect, while Zavala is No. 20. "We were pretty much best friends when he was here and we still are, I'd say. But at the same time, we're competing for a job and I'm going to be working my hardest to be that starting catcher one day for the White Sox or someone else."

The left-handed-hitting Collins leads the Minors with 74 walks and has 11 home runs, compiling a .250/.412/.436 slash line despite a dreadful first few weeks to the season. However, he also has 11 passed balls and five errors, and needs to continue making strides calling games and working with pitchers.

"We're saying we've got a lot of great pitching prospects here. Show us you can handle them," Newman said. "That's what he's doing."

Zavala, who had 11 first-half homers for the Barons, started for the North in the Southern League All-Star Game at Birmingham, and Collins, who had won the Home Run Derby the previous night, was the DH.

The pair had been splitting those roles for the Barons. Now Collins has a chance to start the majority of Birmingham's games behind the plate.

"I don't see how it couldn't be beneficial to catch more and know my pitchers a little better," Collins said. "It's a good thing."

Collins, coveted for his bat coming out of college, thinks he's already made plenty of strides behind the plate.

"I feel 100 percent that I've improved this year," he said. "There were definitely changes that still needed to be made and I feel extremely comfortable now. I feel good about where I'm at.

Video: Barons' Collins slugs 10th homer of season

"I don't think that blocking was a weakness in my game by any means. I think it was more an all-around thing. Getting to know guys, learning how to call games a little bit better. Just getting more experience by catching."

Collins started the season 2-for-37 with 19 strikeouts in 13 games but quickly turned things around after going back to his old college stance.

"I'm feeling good at the plate and swinging the bat well, hitting the ball hard," he said. "Trying to cut down on strikeouts a little bit, but power hitters strike out a good amount and that is part of the game now. Strikeouts come with homers."

The White Sox know that Collins, with his power and eye for walks, has the offensive potential to be a Major League catcher. What's still to be proven is whether he can also excel at the top level behind the plate.

In brief

Getting back on track: Birmingham right-hander Alec Hansen, ranked No. 46 among MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects, fell to 0-4 despite turning in his best outing in five starts since missing the first 10 weeks of the season because of a forearm strain suffered early in Spring Training. The Chicago White Sox's No. 5 prospect gave up just three more hits and a walk over six innings after a homer by the game's second batter, Tyler Neslony, and struck out five in a 1-0 loss to Mississippi on July 8. Hansen, a second-round pick in 2016 out of the University of Oklahoma, came into the start with a 7.71 ERA and 16 walks in 16 1/3 innings. He led the Minors with 191 strikeouts last season.

Home sweet home: Chattanooga first baseman-outfielder Brent Rooker certainly has enjoyed hitting in the Lookouts' AT&T Field. Ten of his 14 homers had come at home, including all except one of the first 11, and Minnesota's No. 7 prospect was batting .324 with 35 RBIs in 45 home games. The road has been a different story, however. Rooker, a first-round compensation pick in 2017 out of Mississippi State, batted .199 with just 15 RBIs in his first 38 games away from Chattanooga. His overall slash line was .266/.319/.492 and he had struck out 105 times.

Downtime lingering: Jackson right-hander Jon Duplantier, Arizona's No. 1 prospect, remained sidelined because of right biceps tendinitis more than six weeks after his last start for the Generals. The third-round choice by the D-backs out of Rice University was 3-1 with a 2.52 ERA in seven starts after beginning the season on the disabled list because of a hamstring issue. Duplantier, ranked No. 60 on MLB.com's Top 100, had 37 strikeouts to seven walks in 30 1/3 innings before walking four and fanning four over 5 1/3 innings in a no-decision on May 27. His velocity dropped in that start and Arizona decided to shut him down after an MRI.

On the upswing: Cuban right-hander Vladimir Gutierrez won his first three starts for Pensacola in the second half, pushing his winning streak to five, as the Blue Wahoos took over first place in the Southern League's South Division. Pensacola tied a franchise record with eight straight wins during a 14-5 turnaround from a 30-38 first half, and Gutierrez helped lead the way while improving to 6-8 with a 4.67 ERA after a dismal first two months. Cincinnati's No. 9 prospect allowed just two earned runs over 16 2/3 innings in his first three second-half starts. Gutierrez, 22, signed for $4.75 million in 2016 and was 7-8 with a 4.46 ERA last season for Class A Advanced Daytona.

Guy Curtright is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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