White Sox

The questions about Zack Collins' defense aren't any closer to being answered

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USA TODAY

The questions about Zack Collins' defense aren't any closer to being answered

The sample size is extraordinarily small, but the longstanding questions about Zack Collins’ defense behind the plate aren’t any closer to being answered.

No one needs to make any final judgments on the 24-year-old catcher right now, not after just his fifth game as a big league backstop. But let’s just say that things didn’t look pretty Saturday night.

Catching in a major league game for the first time since July, Collins had multiple miscues early. He failed to stop any of the three wild pitches White Sox pitchers threw from getting away during a dreadful third inning, and that came an inning after he launched a throw over Tim Anderson’s head while former White Sox catcher Kevan Smith was sliding into second with a stolen base.

“That was the first game I caught in about a week and a half. A little rusty back there today,” Collins said after the White Sox loss. “Obviously it’s not like riding a bike, you’ve got to actually do it every day.

“Caught a couple bullpens here, first couple days, and I felt pretty good, but game time’s a little different. I felt better as the game went on, and everything went smooth after those first couple innings.”

Now it’s nothing short of outrageous to pose that a handful of plays in a couple of innings alone spell doom for Collins’ long-term future as a big league catcher, and everything the White Sox have said suggests that they’ll give him plenty of opportunities to show he’s capable behind the plate.

“Being a rookie, going through those situations, he can only learn from them,” White Sox bench coach Joe McEwing said. “I believe as he continues to grow and use these as teaching tools moving forward, he’s only going to get better. That comes with a lot of hard work and continuing to get after it the right way.

“The more reps you get, the more games you're able to get in at this level, the more comfortable you're going to be back there.”

Allowing a guy time to work on his craft? Makes a heck of a lot of sense.

But the questions surrounding Collins are not new ones, either.

Since he was selected with the 10th pick in the 2016 draft, folks have been debating whether his defense would be good enough to make him the White Sox catcher of the future, a role that became particularly important once the organization launched its rebuilding project after the 2016 season. Collins might be given an opportunity this month, and potentially beyond, to show he can be a catcher in the long term. But will he be able to cash in on that opportunity?

Since spring training, the White Sox have been working Collins at first base. And in his brief bit of big league experience this season, he’s served as a designated hitter as much as he’s caught, playing first base only once. There could very well be a future in which Collins is a first baseman and a DH, not a catcher. But it’s not a future that Collins is thinking about right now.

“I’m going to do whatever I can to get in the lineup,” he said, “but I want to make sure that I stay primarily as a catcher. That’s definitely what I want to do in the future.”

The White Sox will likely find plenty of room for Collins’ bat in the final month of the season, as they have already by using him at DH. As for how many catching opportunities he’ll get before the 2019 season wraps up, that remains to be seen.

Moving forward, the White Sox stumbled across quite the insurance policy in James McCann, who went from a veteran backup bridging the gap between the start of the 2019 season and the time when Collins would be ready to an All-Star catcher who figures to top the depth chart for at least one more season. Right now, if you’re projecting who the catcher of the future is going to be, the most logical pick would probably be McCann. Of course, the veteran will have his own question to answer — can he do this type of thing over a full season again? — when the 2020 season rolls around.

In the meantime, the White Sox can use McCann to help Collins get better, too. McEwing called McCann’s presence “a huge luxury” for Collins, and that’s definitely the case.

“It’s awesome,” Collins said of working with McCann. “Obviously he knows what he’s doing behind the plate. He’s been a great catcher up here for four, five years now. Obviously he’s a great guy and wants to teach everybody as much as he can. And I’ve learned a lot from him.”

McCann has been so good, however, that he’s needed in the lineup more frequently to work with the team’s young pitching staff. It limits the opportunities for Collins to get those reps McEwing was talking about.

“It’s just something I have to get used to,” Collins said. “I’m young, I know that we have two veteran catchers ahead of me right now, and it’s something that I have to get used to and know how I have to keep my body right and ready to go every day. Something that I’ll learn.”

And so these questions about Collins’ defense might not be answered any time soon. They might not be answered by the time this season is over, and they might not be answered by the time next season starts.

The good news is, like Collins said, he’s young. The developments of all these young White Sox have taken varying amounts of time and have hit some pretty deep valleys before rising to some pretty high peaks. Think Lucas Giolito and Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson and all the growing pains they went through.

This is just the first taste of the majors for Collins. But those questions are still questions. And we’re awaiting the answers.

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Chicago White Sox know we haven't seen the best of Eloy Jimenez

Chicago White Sox know we haven't seen the best of Eloy Jimenez

Eloy Jimenez is always smiling and joking, and laughing, and waving, and saying hi to his mom on TV. You'd never know that not everything went his way during his rookie season.

Despite the 31 home runs and his white-hot month of September, the rookie year-struggles were there and definitely had an effect on the happy-go-lucky Jimenez.

 “At the beginning [of the season] I tried to do too much,” Jimenez said. “And the injuries didn’t help me a lot.

“At the end, I felt like everything was slowed down and was easy because I just tried to play the game and enjoy the game. At the beginning, I had too much pressure because I tried to do too much.”

Of course, Jimenez doesn’t go long without a joke.

“This year is going to be better because now that we’ve got Luis Robert, the attention is not going to be on me,” he said. “It’s going to be better.”

Whether or not it’s because there’s a new uber-prospect to soak up the attention, improvement in 2020 seems to be a consistent opinion when it comes to Jimenez, who was the prospect everyone was drooling over at this time last year. As he mentioned, out-of-the-gate adjustments to the big leagues and two trips to the injured list prevented his rookie season from being a runaway success.

Still, we saw more than a few glimpses of what got everyone so revved up in the first place. The night of his first major league home run, he hit two. At Yankee Stadium. Twice, he disturbed the foliage of the center-field batter’s eye, something that was overlooked thanks to the ball he sent all the way to the staircase on the left side of the fan deck.

And who could forget the game-winning, broken-bat homer to beat the team that traded him on that June night at Wrigley Field? It’s arguably the biggest on-field moment of the rebuild to date,  

And like everyone is saying, that’s just scratching the surface of what this guy can do.

“He's good already,” White Sox designated hitter and longtime friend, Edwin Encarnacion, said. “He's going to get better but he's good already. It's very impressive what he's done in his first year playing in the big leagues. I remember my first year. I wasn't even close to the way he is right now. It's going to be fun watching him play.”

Sorry, Eloy. Even though Robert is everyone’s new favorite youngster, the Jimenez hype train is ready to pull out of the station once more. In his first interview this spring, he was asked if he think he can hit 50 home runs in a season someday. He didn’t disappoint.

“Why not?” he replied. “Yeah, it’s a big number but my goal is every year to have better numbers than the past year. So I think, one day, I can hit 50 plus. But let’s see.”

RELATED: Is a Moncada extension coming?

Of course, hitting home runs is the thing we know Jimenez can do and do well. What the White Sox want to see from him in his sophomore season is improvement in other areas, particularly ones away from the plate. Jimenez has impressed with his bat but he did much the opposite with his glove, at least to those who winced when they saw him racing down fly balls in left field.

Defensive plays also led to both of his stays on the injured list. The first came when he attempted to rob an un-robbable home run and sprained his ankle planting his leg into the outfield wall. Later that summer, he crashed into Charlie Tilson in left-center in Kansas City and suffered an ulnar nerve contusion.

In general, he made many fans uneasy with other misadventures in the outfield.

“We really need him to step it up and continue to improve on his defensive end in left field. We’ve talked about that,” manager Rick Renteria said early on in spring training. “He started having some growth out there last year, in my opinion.

“I asked him, ‘do you want me to take you out in the seventh, eighth or ninth?’ He goes, ‘no.’ I asked him that today. You can ask him. He wants to stay in there.

“I want him to be the best left fielder that the Chicago White Sox can put out there. I don’t want to be timid about using him out there in the late innings in a ballgame.”

Jimenez agrees.

“I don’t want to come out in the ninth inning,” he said. “I want to be able to play nine innings. So that’s why this year, I’m putting more effort into the defense so I can play the whole game.”

That’s the more politically correct way of putting it. At SoxFest, he was asked if he would be better suited as a designated hitter. He responded: “F**k that.”

But whether we’re talking about his eye-popping skills at the plate or his work-in-progress style in left field, there’s a common theme: We have not seen the best of Eloy Jimenez. And how could we have? The guy is just 23 years old with only 122 big league games under his belt.

Encarnacion, for one, sees high-level greatness in Jimenez’s future, telling Chuck Garfien on a recent White Sox Talk Podcast that “he has the talent to hit over 500 homers in the major leagues. I know he can do it.”

Fifty homers? Five hundred homers? Does anyone want to bring some more conservative projections to this conversation?

“With the talent that they have,” Jose Abreu said, through team interpreter Billy Russo, of the White Sox crop of young hitters, “they can do whatever they want to do.”

All right, then. Fifty and 500 it is.

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White Sox Talk Podcast: The Yermin Mercedes Appreciation Podcast!

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: The Yermin Mercedes Appreciation Podcast!

The man the fans are clamoring for, Yermin Mercedes sits down with host Chuck Garfien to discuss why Sox fans love him, and his goals as a player. Chuck also gets some inside information on Yermin from teammates Carson Fulmer and Danny Mendick, and White Sox director of player development Chris Getz. You wanted Yermin, we got you Yermin.

(2:05) - Who the heck is Yermin Mercedes?

(6:41) - Interview with Yermin Mercedes

(16:07) - How did the Sox acquire Yermin with Chris Getz

(19:09) - Carson Fulmer on Yermin Mercedes's improvement as a baseball player

(22:03) - Danny Mendick on the uniqueness of Yermin Mercedes

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: