Toolshed: Collins clicking again at the plate

No. 9 White Sox prospect amassing hits after adjusting his stance

Zack Collins batted .429 during a 10-game hitting streak from April 24 to May 4. (Brian McLeod/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | May 9, 2018 11:15 AM

Zack Collins was looking for any video he could get his hands on from his days at the University of Miami, where he hit .319/.472/.601 over three seasons before becoming the 10th overall pick in the 2016 Draft. Well, OK, not any video.

"When you go to YouTube, you just find highlights," said the No. 9 White Sox prospect. "I didn't want that. Anyone can copy a home run swing."

Now in his second full season in the Chicago system, Collins knew he needed to make an adjustment, and he wanted that adjustment to come from the days he felt most comfortable at the plate. On April 22, the left-handed slugger was hitting just .054 with 19 strikeouts in his first 13 games back with Double-A Birmingham. That could be chalked up to a serious early-season slump and nothing more, but Collins was coming off a 2017 campaign in which his hit tool was being seriously questioned -- he hit just .224 with 129 strikeouts in 113 games between Class A Advanced Winston-Salem and Birmingham. There were some saving graces -- namely his walk rate (87 walks) and power (19 homers) -- but something needed to change.

So he changed his stance.

In a video sent from the Hurricanes, Collins noted that his college stance was more spread out and that his hands were higher, allowing him to see the ball better and attack fastballs up in the zone more efficiently. He showed the tape to Birmingham coaches and put the old stance into action on April 24 against Pensacola. The result: 2-for-4 with two doubles, four RBIs and a walk.

"Honestly, it just changed in the one game," Collins said. "Right away from the first at-bat, I could tell I was seeing the ball a lot better. I almost wish I would've stuck to this since I got drafted. Unfortunately, I didn't, but things seem to be working really well now."

Video: Barons' Collins crushes two-run shot

Indeed, since the 23-year-old changed his stance on April 24, he's produced a .386/.565/.682 line with three homers, a triple, two doubles and a 10/17 K/BB ratio in 14 contests. No hitter in Minor League Baseball has a higher on-base percentage over that stretch, and even with the early slump, Collins is fifth in the Southern League with a .442 OBP on the season. His .235 average doesn't jump out, but it's on the right side of the Mendoza line at least. 

With results popping off this quickly, it's easy to wonder why Collins or the White Sox tinkered with his approach coming out of college in the first place. The player, however, isn't laying blame.

"It wasn't completely them changing me," he said. "It was in between them and myself working on some things. I just wish I had stuck to what was working in the first place and gone from there. I felt like I almost wasted a year. It's OK now, though, and that's what's important."

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Even when he was struggling, Collins had shown an impressive ability to reach base via the free pass. Overall, he's taken at least one walk in 19 of his 27 games played this season and has walked three times in three games, most recently last Friday at Tennessee. He's walked in 26.5 percent of his plate appearances so far with the Barons, and no other Double-A hitter even comes close to that mark. Joey Curletta (with the Mariners' Double-A affiliate in Arkansas) ranks second at 20.7 percent. Ryan Noda (28.7 percent at Class A Lansing) is the only one of 1,028 qualified Minor Leaguers with a higher walk rate in 2018.

"When I step in the box, I'm looking for a fastball down the middle," Collins said. "If it's not there, I don't swing. Sometimes, that means I'll be behind in the count, but I can handle that OK. A lot of people ask me why I take so many walks, and it is kinda crazy. But I really just want my pitch."

Part of the advantage there comes from Collins' defensive home. The former Hurricane isn't seen as the best defender behind the plate, but it does get him a personal view of the strike zone every day he's in the lineup -- something that isn't afforded to a first baseman or a left fielder, for example.

"It definitely helps," he said of catching. "I get to know umpires better, know their zone. I'm seeing pitches from the first pitch of the game, instead of some guys who step in kind of blind-eyed and have to face a 95 mph fastball."

Put that all together and Collins is becoming a more well-rounded hitter -- a huge development for a player just two levels from the Majors. While some questions remain about his defensive ability, the backstop is beginning to look at his prospect resume with a lot more pride than he did in the middle of last month.

"I'm not a huge stat guy, but when it comes down to it, I'm looking at on-base percentage, RBIs and runs," he said. "The name of the game is to get runs and save runs, so that's all I'm trying to do. A walk, to me, is like a single. I'm trying to get on first base no matter what. Whatever gets me on base the most is fine by me.

"I'm feeling extremely comfortable right now with where I'm at. I can stick to this approach, and even in a couple games with this stance where I don't hit, I'm still getting two walks. That's where I want to be."

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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