WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Since he started catching, Zack Collins has always had a major league mentor he’s counted upon in Dodgers backstop Yasmani Grandal.
Early in his high school career, Collins — who was promoted to Double-A Birmingham from Single-A Winston-Salem on Tuesday — knew he wanted to catch. He sought help from Grandal, who had just been drafted by the Cincinnati Reds after catching at the University of Miami, and convinced him to train together.
They’ve remained close ever since.
That bond has been extremely helpful at every step for Collins, who has an experienced friend who understands the complexities of developing into a catcher. Even though Collins is very pleased with his 2017 campaign, he has his doubts like any other player. At times, the White Sox 2016 first-rounder has been frustrated by his batting average this season. But same as always, Grandal has been a perfecting sounding board.
“I was like Yaz what do I do?” Collins said. “He’s like, ‘You’re there to catch, hit home runs and have a good on-base percentage.’ He pretty much told me all he cares about is making his pitchers feel good, having a good slugging percentage and a good on-base percentage. That’s pretty much it.
“We all have things to work on, but I’m happy with how my season has gone.”
Grandal likes what he has seen from Collins since the outset. He liked how much effort Collins, who was 15 at the time, put into training sessions as he attempted to match the pace of Grandal’s rigorous offseason conditioning program. Collins could only manage to do part of the training and said he always felt like he had run a marathon afterward.
“I put him through a lot of hard work,” Grandal said. “I had a vision for him, and I needed to get him to where I see him (being) in a short period of time. He needed to put the work in. I think we made lots of strides toward that goal.”
Since then Grandal has been a guide for Collins on a matter of subjects. When the Reds selected Collins in the 27th round of the 2013 draft, Grandal suggested he think about playing in college, and Collins ended up playing at Miami. Grandal had made the same decision in 2007, and he went from a 27th-rounder to a first-round pick in 2010.
The two have also discussed how Pilates help strengthen core muscles and how much it can help catchers. Collins began doing Pilates last offseason and on Monday said he feels strong and in great shape despite having played in a career-high 101 games, including 76 starts at catcher.
“I’ve spoke to him a lot, pretty much guiding him through little things here and there,” Grandal said.
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It’s no surprise to find that Collins recently brought up his batting average in a conversation with Grandal. Collins has heard the questions and at the Futures Game last month said he’s not as concerned about his average. After all, he still carried a high on-base percentage and had 18 doubles and 17 home runs. Behind the plate, Collins had thrown out 41 percent of the stolen-base attempts against him this season, up from 3-of-21 last year.
But naturally, Collins had some doubts.
He’s open to working on his swing — “You can say hitch, you can say bat movement, but the key is to get in a good position at an early time and just be able to see the pitch and hit it,” Collins said.
Collins just prefers to work on the swing change in the offseason. After trying to adjust recently during the season, Collins found it difficult to compete while making the switch and requested a stoppage until instructional camp, which begins in Glendale, Arizona, next month. Collins said on Monday he’s headed to the one-month camp for minor leaguers.
“It wasn’t really working in the middle of the season,” Collins said. “It’s tough to think about swing changes, but right now I’m just going out there and hitting and having fun the way I’ve always done. We’ll worry about that in the offseason.
“When you’re trying something and you have one bad game it’s like, ‘Oh, maybe I should do something different.’ We’re going to work on everything in the offseason.”
After talking to Grandal, Collins had confidence that the rest of what he has accomplished shouldn’t be overshadowed internally by his strikeout total and average. He instead wanted to focus on finishing the season strong at Winston-Salem. In August, Collins hit .343/.500/.686 with four doubles, a triple, two home runs and seven RBIs in 48 plate appearances before his promotion.
While he’s the one who has done the work, Collins knows have a sounding board like Grandal continues to be a big help.
“I had just started catching, I was raw back there,” Collins said. “I think it was more important to work with him just to see how he carries himself and he works rather than learning stuff. I would go watch him play and to see how he carries himself on the field and the way he did things helped me out a lot.”