Zack Collins’ Genesis

There may be some fantasy catcher hope in the air tonight. Hold on.

We were real close to never getting YermínMania. If Eloy Jiménez doesn’t needlessly hang on an outfield wall by an armpit, eight for eight probably doesn’t happen. Yermín Mercedes probably doesn’t make the team with a healthy Jiménez. A big reason for that would have been Zack Collins, another White Sox rookie catcher/designated hitter. (Collins isn’t technically a rookie because of service time, but he is still under 130 MLB ABs, for a few more games at least.)

The world of fantasy catcher is a boring place, like your old man’s car on a road trip where you’re liable to play anything on the cd player. These days, any hint of a young offensively capable catcher gets me feeling things in the night air, if you will. Collins isn’t inspiring any drum banging from me yet, but is he on the cusp of becoming relevant in all formats? My drumstick is in the air.


The Path


In the beginning, Collins was drafted as a catcher, but not really. Collins’ left-handed bat was the draw at pick #10, having polished off his Miami career with a .363/.544/.668, 16-HR performance, lauded for his approach, discipline, and power to do damage. Many felt, despite defensive improvements, his pro future would be at 1B or DH. Collins jumped onto the dynasty scene in a big way after a successful 2016 debut season in High-A, sniffing top-50 consideration by some.

The excitement dwindled 2017 and 2018 between High-A and AA lackluster offensive production whereupon swing mechanics met criticism. Hard to say which came first, the offensive struggles or the concerted effort to become a viable big league catcher, either way, the narrative seemed to shift from a developing offensive threat to…better get those backstop skills up to back-up level.

Yet, Collins put it together during his 2019 AAA Charlotte season, where he also started playing 1B for the first time as a pro. Partly because Seby Zavala and Mercedes took their turns catching and partly because his bat warranted it.  Collins went .282/.403/.558 with 19 HR over 88 games earning a September call-up whereupon he very much looked like a player getting his first taste. The dream of a legit big league bat was back though.

Winter and spring of 2020 were all about polishing the defense to make a real push at the roster. If Collins was mentioned by someone in the organization, making strides as a catcher was the topic. The White Sox were in need of a left-handed threat, but with Yasmani Grandal, James McCann, and offensive talent in abundance, there just wasn’t room. After 16 unremarkable ABs, 2021 was the mark.




The White Sox opened a door by letting McCann walk, signing Jonathan Lucroy to a minors deal in case a young catcher didn’t step up. Collins and Mercedes proved worthy both offensively and defensively this spring. Despite what may be said on the matter, Mercedes was better receiving than Collins from the couch view. Both had a game that was shaky, but as a whole Collins was fine, and Mercedes was good. Impossible to speak on the many behind-the-scene virtues involved with catching, but Collins won the back-up job with Mercedes landing as a third option freed La Russa to use one at DH or in pinch-hit situations.

La Russa threw in Collins’ left-handed bat Opening Day at DH after a .295/.380/.523 with three HR in a 44-AB spring. Collins’ 35.4% strikeout rate has been remarkably consistent as a pro.  Every stop, it’s been roughly the same, with the only deviance being the small 2021 spring training sample size where it was 13.6%. Through April 11th, he’s struck out seven times in 20 ABs, back at it. This is Collins’ wart, and at 122 MLB ABs, it’s likely to stay around 35% as these rates stabilize after just 60 plate appearances, so they say.

With the fantasy catcher landscape as bleak as it is, we have seen teams’ second catchers become viable options in 12-team leagues; McCann was last year, along with Max Stassi of the Angels, and going back to 2019, Kurt Suzuki with the Nationals to name a few from recent years. But what does that need to look like and is Collins capable?


The Backup Catcher That Works In A 12er


The first hurdle is opportunity. The first few weeks of La Russa’s lineup cards have been…interesting. A lot can be said on that topic, but we’ll stick to Collins. We know DH and second-catcher runs is in the cards, and Grandal will get his DH days. Through April 11th, Collins was sitting 22nd in plate appearances amongst catcher eligible players after three games catching and two DHing. I realize Collins may not have catcher eligibility yet in some formats, but he should get there soon.

Such a pace can work as the three catchers mentioned earlier were outside that range seasons they did it. Will this rate of run maintain for Collins? It seems the White Sox would like to keep it going, but I’m still bullish Mercedes can handle some days behind the plate. Collins’ defense may still be a predicament. After I negatively criticized Collins’ April 6th performance in Seattle, he bounced back with an impressive outing against the Royals on the 11th. I believe Collins has proven he can, but can he on the consistent level needed? And how will the Mercedes factor influence Collins’ playing time?

The other hurdle is going to be performing offensively at a high enough level. Digging through past backups who have done this, a slugging percentage north of .500 is probably required. Batting averages varied between .260s to .290. Suzuki was the only instance south of a .500  SLG and he was .486 in 2019. Couple this requisite with the 35% strikeout rate, and the only catcher I found with such a rate/playing time combo who flirted with only 15-team relevance was Curt Casali. Not very inspiring. It may be unlikely Collins’ steps into small single catcher league relevance in 2021, but if the bats goes, two catcher leagues may be viable.


Beyond 2021 and 12ers


Collins is as fine as any young catcher starting to carve out a career in the bigs for a speculative share these days. With some offensive pedigree and an organization seemingly committed to giving him a chance, you could do worse. Collins’ left-handed bat has and will produce more patience from an organization. He could be a nice stash in a larger dynasty league if you can still hold him down, but eating up a spot on your major league roster might be tough. I don’t advocate any aggressive acquisitions but a potential throw-in piece…sure.

There is juice here to surpass the low threshold of a plus fantasy catcher in time, but, sadly, I don’t think the great catcher hope is here. I’ve held my drumstick up, given it a few twirls, and just gonna keep doing that a little longer as this Collins’ thing comes further in the air tonight. (Not on this particular night; as I finish this article, Collins was passed up for Jake Lamb as a lefty DH against Shane Bieber. Oh La Russa.)

Featured image by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)

Nate Handy

Nate is an advocate of drafting more pitchers. Originally from the planet Eternia, he aspires to become the Master of the Prospect Universe....or just watch baseball, share observations, and have an enjoyable dialogue about this great game, particularly the young players trying to make the major leagues.

3 responses to “Zack Collins’ Genesis”

  1. Mario says:

    Oh man, worst graphic ever

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