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Odd Man Out?

Zack Collins’ winter will be a truly intriguing one and could tell us a lot about how this team views 2020.

In the early stages of what is arguably the most important offseason for the White Sox since 2005/2006, we have been told the White Sox will be active.  Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams have willingly stepped in front of microphones at every possible moment to broadcast that the team needs: (2) SP, RF, DH. Other than that, they’re in really good shape. Now, any of us that watched the 2019 edition of our South Siders knows they do, indeed, need to address each of these areas. The willingness to broadcast it to the baseball world is quite the departure from the way this team typically operates. Additionally, we have been told that adding more lineup balance from the left side of the plate is a desired outcome. To further muddy the waters, there has been speculation that the team has interest in procuring the services of switch-hitting All-Star catcher, Yasmani Grandal.

The team has one player that was drafted in the first round of the 2016 MLB amateur draft that was supposed to address many of these areas of need.  Zack Collins was taken with the tenth overall pick, one that is typically symbolic of a player that is viewed as a potential franchise cornerstone. But as the Sox look to shift from rebuilding to contending, Collins’ place on the roster going forward is very much in flux. The team’s unwillingness to provide Collins with consistent plate appearances in 2019, particularly following the Manny Machado insurance policy, Yonder Alonso, being DFA’d, proved puzzling. Instead, the team giving PAs to a player that could be part of a future core, they opted to give those PAs to the likes of Daniel Palka, Welington Castillo, Matt Skole, and A.J. Reed.

Was the unwillingness to fully commit PAs to Collins a sign that the organization has soured on the former first-round pick? It’s hard to say for sure, but the decision left most of Sox Twitterverse scratching our collective heads. This isn’t to say that Collins inherently deserved to be handed PAs due to performance, but at the risk of stunting the development of a potential future piece, I simply can’t understand the rationale.

Collins split time in 2019 between Chicago and AAA Charlotte and had some, let’s say, interesting results. First, if we look at Collins’ overall lines for the season between the two levels, we see:

PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA HR BB% K%
Knights 367 .282 .403 .548 .401 19 16.9% 26.7%
PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA HR BB% K%
Sox 102 .186 .307 .349 .285 3 13.7% 38.2%

So, depending on who you talk to, the AAA numbers were either a sign of his elite plate patience and power starting to materialize or a product of the bouncy ball making its way to AAA. I think most would agree, however, that his initial cup of coffee in Chicago was very unsatisfying. But Collins’ season was really a tale of two halves. First, let’s look at his first two-plus months in Charlotte and his initial MLB call-up:

PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA HR BB% K%
Knights 4/4-6/16 206 .250 .374 .482 .365 9 17.5% 32.0%
PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA HR BB% K%
Sox 6/17-7/13 31 0.077 0.226 0.192 0.202 1 16.1% 45.2%

Following his demotion back to Charlotte, we saw a different hitter and some of those changes translated when he re-emerged at 35th/Shields:

PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA HR BB% K%
Knights 7/17-9/2 161 0.323 0.441 0.631 0.448 10 16.1% 19.9%
PA AVG OBP SLG wOBA HR BB% K%
Sox 9/3-9/29 71 0.233 0.343 0.417 0.323 2 12.7% 35.2%

Now look, when Collins got back to the show in September, he was still striking out too much. In fact, many scouts have long questioned whether he would consistently be able to put the bat on the ball, but the fact remains there was a marked improvement in his bat-to-ball profile following the demotion. He provides an elite eye for the strike zone and power from the left side that this team desperately needs, so why do they seem so intent on limiting his exposure? When Collins returned in September, he was essentially a league-average hitter but he was still struggling to find his way into the lineup.

If this team is intent on adding externally to address their holes in the lineup, I’m just not sure where Collins’ PAs will come from. Hypothetically, if Jerry Reinsdorf pulls a few bucks from his great-great-great-great grandkid’s trust-fund to sign Yasmani Grandal and some combination of RF/1B/DH through free agency or acquires Joc Pederson via trade, there simply isn’t a place for Collins on this roster. It’s apparent they don’t view him as a catcher long-term, and justifiably, but the roster crunch at that point has to leave Collins as the odd man out.

I still think Collins can have a meaningful place on a big-league roster. He simply doesn’t look like he will hit the ceiling of a top-ten pick, and especially not on the South Side of Chicago. It’s my contention that if they truly believe in him being a part of this process going forward, he wouldn’t have lost PAs to some of the cavalcade of scrubs we saw in 2019. I went as far as trading Collins in my recent offseason plan, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he was packaged for a back-end starter, perhaps the likes of a Dylan Bundy or Jon Gray.

Who knows, maybe a change of scenery is what’s needed to jump-start his career. For a player that has been so polarizing among the fanbase and prospect observers for the last few seasons, Collins’ future place is clouded with mystery, at least to me. Of course, this confusion could all be cleared up if the Sox don’t deliver on upgrading this roster externally this winter.  Zack Collins’ winter will be a truly intriguing one and could tell us a lot about how this team views 2020.


Featured Photo: Ron Jenkins/Getty Images

Former scrub JUCO pitcher

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