The 2021 White Sox continue to build toward an Opening Day of a season that holds much promise. They made the playoffs in 2020 and acquired valuable postseason experience. Fans are expecting more from their Sox this season. Anything less than a playoff series win will not sit well on the South Side, however, in spite of their additions, the White Sox entered spring training with some holes to fill.
2021 White Sox: Now Hiring Catchers
After the 2019 season, the Sox signed Yasmani Grandal to be their primary catcher. He teamed with James McCann to form the best catching duo in baseball last season. However, Mccann left Chicago for the opportunity to be a full-time catcher with the Mets. His absence creates a void in Chicago at the backup catcher position. Who will fill this role is one of the bigger issues facing the 2021 White Sox.
There are several candidates, such as Yermin Mercedes, Seby Zavala, Zack Collins, and newly-acquired Jonathan Lucroy. A case could be made for each of them, although there is no clear-cut favorite at this point. Perhaps spring training will see a breakout for one of them. However, for now, the pageant continues. The winner will earn a spot on the 2021 White Sox, and help them contend for a playoff spot. Whatever happens, one thing remains clear. One of these candidates is a former first-round draft pick who has struggled to establish himself as MLB ready.
Zack Collins: Prospect Or Enigma?
In 2016, the White Sox made Zack Collins the 10th pick in the first round of the MLB draft. He was a promising catcher from the University of Miami. At 6"3" and 230 pounds, the left-handed hitter seemed to be a solid pick for a franchise looking for a future backstop. The future looked bright, indeed.
Collins spent the first three seasons of his professional career exclusively in the minors. Spending time between Class A and AA, his highest batting average in either level was .258, however, he did demonstrate a good batting eye, drawing a good deal of walks. Thus, his OBP in his first two years was respectable. He also showed good power when he manage to make contact.
In 2019, Collins played 88 games at Triple A Charlotte, where he compiled a slash line of .282/.403/.548. He slugged 19 homers and drove in 74 runs, both excellent numbers for an 88 game season. His numbers at Charlotte were by far the best of his minor league career. It seemed that the former first-round draft pick was on track to appear on the South Side sooner rather than later.
Collins Hits The Big Time
In mid-June of 2019, Collins got the call to the big leagues. realizing the dream many young boys have had over the years, he was finally going to get the chance to show he belonged on the South Side. He made his MLB debut against the Cubs on June 19th and drew a walk in his only plate appearance.
Two days later, Collins made his first MLB start. In his first at-bat against the Ranger in Arlington, He hit a three-run homer to center field, giving the Sox a brief one-run lead. So, in his first two MLB plate appearances, Collins walked and homered, a rather auspicious debut for the young catcher.
The Hard Times Begin
Unfortunately, Collins" debut was not an omen for continued success at the MLB level. He finished the 2019 MLB season with a slash line of .186/.307/.349. He managed only three homers and 12 RBIs while striking out 39 times in his 101 plate appearances. By any measure, his 2019 MLB season was a disappointment.
The 2020 season was not kind to Collins either. With Grandal and McCann sharing the catching duties, Collins saw very limited action. He appeared in only nine games and made 18 plate appearances. He went 1 for 16, with two walks and five strikeouts. Another lost season for the former first-round draft pick.
2021 White Sox: Where Does Collins Fit?
No fair-minded person would suggest that Collins has gotten a real shot at catching at the MLB level. Supporters and critics alike can certainly agree on that point. With limited exposure to MLB pitching, it is impossible to predict what kind of hitter he can be. While there are still questions about his defensive abilities, Collins will either make it or fail in the big leagues on his hitting.
With that in mind, one has to hope that he performs well in training camp. The 2021 White Sox are in desperate of a second catcher, and Collins" left-handed bat would be a welcome addition to a solid, but predominantly right-handed lineup. So, he should get an opportunity to show new manager Tony LaRussa that he is ready to assume a role on the South Side.
If the 2021 White Sox are to make any noise, a backup catcher is critical to their hopes. Zack Collins just might be the guy they have been looking for to fill that role, however, at age 26, Collins needs to step up now, if he wishes to claim the backup role. The former first-round draft pick is now five years removed from that lofty selection. Fair or not, time marches on, and now is the time for Collins to either get in the game or get out.
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