Single-A Winston-Salem's Zack Collins is experiencing some newfound confidence when it comes to the catch and throw.
After he made a minor technical adjustment this spring, the White Sox first-rounder has dramatically improved his results in throwing out base runners early this season. The catcher has consistently reduced his throw time to second base by a tenth of a second. After he only threw out three of 21 stolen-base attempts in 2016, Collins has nailed 10 of 14 would-be thieves early this season.
Collins' correction is due in large part to a small change he and White Sox catching coordinator John Orton made in how the catcher positions himself as he releases the ball.
"What we noticed was when he tried to be quick throwing, his ball would seem to kind of die," said. "We looked at some video compared to some other guys that throw well and he wasn't using his front side, he wasn't on his legs enough to where he could use his lower half.
"We saw it, he made the adjustment the next day and he felt it right away. He's basically carried that into the season. He's throwing great right now.
"It doesn't normally work that way."
It's more than just a repositioning that has helped Collins. The No. 10 overall pick of the 2016 draft changed his dietary habits in the offseason and dropped 15 pounds. Collins also did Pilates to improve his mobility behind the plate.
Those aspects along with a strong attention to detail and quiet presence behind the plate had the White Sox pleased with how Collins showed in big league camp this spring. Early in camp, Orton said it didn't matter if Collins ever grew into a standout thrower because there are so many other important aspects of catching. He listed receiving/blocking, game-calling/handling the staff and hitting ahead of throwing in terms of importance.
But then Collins added a wrinkle and made what could be a significant adjustment. Prior to making the change, Collins' glove and front shoulder were pointed toward shortstop when he released to second base on a stolen-base attempt. Orton changed Collins' positioning and now has him throwing directly at the base. Collins instantly could feel a difference and his throws have been on target more often.
"I kind of closed myself off to second base," Collins said. "I get a lot more behind my throws and a lot better accuracy. That's the biggest thing.
"It feels great. It kind of feels normal now. Before it was a little weird, like I was closing myself off too much. But it kind of feels normal now and I get a lot of pressure off my arm and obviously the throw percentage is there."
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More important, the drastically-reduced times are there.
Prior to making the change, Collins' throws to second base were somewhere around 2.08 to 2.10 seconds. In the first week of the season, Collins had reduced the time to 1.97 seconds and registered a 1.92 on one throw. He even posted several 1.87s in between innings.
"If you're under 2 and accurate you'll get most guys for sure," Orton said.
Collins has eliminated many attempts in the early going. He's throwing with confidence, too.
Recently, late in a tied game, Collins threw out a man headed to second base with a runner on third for the final out of the inning.
Winston-Salem manager Willie Harris was stunned to learn that Collins had improved from throwing out 14 percent of all base runners last season to 71 percent so far.
"Hell no I wouldn't even believe that," Harris said. "He's made some serious adjustments behind the plate.
"Collins is definitely a pro. He's going to have a very long career at the major league level. He does a lot of things right. He runs the staff. He knows when to make mound visits. He picks runners off at first, third, second."
The confidence the University of Miami product feels has carried over to social media. After Collins threw out another runner on Sunday, the team's Twitter account made a plea to Carolina League opponents to #KeepRunningOnZack. Colorado Rockies farmhand Willie Abreu, a former teammate of Collins at Miami, chimed in to inform the catcher he'd run on him all day.
Collins fired back: "You'd run on the other Zack Collins. Not the new one."
"It definitely helps and kind of gives me a little confidence behind my back knowing that I've found something that has helped me catch and throw," Collins said. "Obviously last year the numbers really weren't there during my first pro season. At the same time, I was kind of tired last year and didn't have as much behind my arm as I do now. I feel a lot better now."