White Sox brass isn’t letting anything slip about their plans for September call-ups.
The secretive nature of the plans is probably more standard operating procedure than it is trying to prevent White Sox fans from camping out at O’Hare with a welcome basket for Luis Robert.
The No. 1 prospect in the organization — and the No. 5 prospect in baseball — doesn’t seem like someone who will get promoted for a few weeks at the end of another losing season, despite the fact that he’s been perhaps the best player in all the minor leagues this season. But while the argument for getting Robert some big league experience ahead of a possible contending 2020 season is a good one, the argument for the White Sox gaining an extra year of team control is pretty darn convincing.
So Robert-mania (let’s think of a better name for that) might have to wait until a few weeks into the 2020 season. But that doesn’t make the list of September call-ups meaningless. Not one bit.
Zack Collins is still the potential catcher of the long-term future for this franchise, and though fans have already celebrated his major league debut this season, it’s a safe bet that he’ll be back for more in the final month of the campaign.
While fans raged on social media over Collins’ seemingly small workload during his roughly monthlong stint in the majors earlier this summer, according to the White Sox, he got exactly what he needed to out of that stay, one in which he mustered only two hits — compared a whopping 14 strikeouts — in 31 trips to the plate. They say he learned a lot about his offensive approach, making some significant changes, and the results have been sensational since he was sent back to Triple-A Charlotte: a .351/.456/.685 slash line to go along with nine homers and 31 RBIs in 32 games heading into Tuesday night’s contest, a game in which he added another roundtripper.
“He understood that the approach that he was taking when he got here wasn't going to work,” manager Rick Renteria said Tuesday. “You go from a ball-to-strike approach to a strike-to-ball approach, in which you check your swing as opposed to get it started. When guys realize that maybe you're holding off a little bit, they're going to attack the strike zone. You've got to show the opponent that you're able to swing the bat for them to make the distinction and deviate from coming right down the middle.
“I think he took that approach that he understood what was going on here over the course of the month that he was here. He learned a lot. He's gone down, he's taken it to heart and it's noticeable in terms of his numbers. You've got to give him credit for having taken to understanding what it was that was going to be happening to him as he moves forward in this league.”
The White Sox also continue to tout what Collins gained from working alongside James McCann, the veteran catcher who has received constant adulation from his work ethic in preparing game plans for the starting pitchers. In fact, it sounds like Collins might be attempting to emulate McCann in that regard.
“There was nothing but praise for the way Zack came back from his experience here and how he embraced the adjustments everyone wanted him to make and the amount of work he's put in,” general manager Rick Hahn said last week. “You guys have seen his stat lines since he's been down there, so you know it's translated to success on the field.
“But from a preparation and work ethic standpoint, it's been awesome. In fact, (Charlotte pitching coach) Steve McCatty raised how much he was impressed with his pregame preparation and how that's changed after even a short stint here in Chicago. The stay here was very beneficial for Zack and we look forward to him building upon that the next time he's up here.”
That a very different looking Collins could return to the major leagues as soon as this weekend — rosters officially expand on Sunday, though the possibility exists that Collins could stay with the Knights a little longer as they try to win a championship — should be exciting for White Sox fans.
Of course, until he’s excelling at the big league level, the questions that have accompanied Collins since he was selected in the first round of the 2016 draft will continue to linger. Most of those have long centered around his defense, and if that remains a sticking point, perhaps he’ll get more run as a first baseman or designated hitter.
But the White Sox remain confident in Collins’ long-term prospects as a backstop, and some of the pitchers he’s caught have nothing but good things to say.
“I think overall he really cared,” said Hector Santiago, who threw to Collins in a July 31 game at Charlotte. “He showed a lot of effort when he was going over scouting reports. He went into games having an idea of what he wanted to do and what he wanted pitchers to do. So overall the way he carried himself was kind of impressive, especially for somebody so young coming up through the system so quick.
“The way he went about it, it seemed like he knew what he was doing, like he had done it before. He’s obviously taken the time and put in the time and effort to go through and worry about that much on that side of the game.
“In the big leagues, they want you to hit. … But if you can go back and control a pitching staff and understand the guys’ strengths and weaknesses and go through a game. I think that’s where his mind’s at right now, going through and understanding how pitchers pitch and trying to throw a shutout every time and trying to get the guys out that are up at the plate.
“I think all the way around so far, defensively, he’s trying to mature and better himself in that part of it, for sure.”
Again, the rave reviews will only go as far as Collins backs them up once he does return to the major leagues. And that seems like it will be soon.
McCann’s out-of-nowhere transformation into an All-Star catcher this season has somewhat lessened the pressure on Collins to be a must-hit prospect. But he could still be a big part of the team’s future, whether behind the plate or swinging his bat at a different position.
“I think at some point we’ll have to figure out the best way to maximize the lineup and Zack’s role in that,” Hahn said. “Obviously next year we expect Mac to be here, and Zack may well force his way on to that roster, as well. What’s the best way to keep them both fresh and keep Zack’s bat in the lineup perhaps when he’s not catching?”
The White Sox figure to be able to start experimenting to find an answer to that question next month. And rather than a stint defined by what Collins can learn, like his first one was, this ought to be a stint defined by what Collins can do.