“Third base is a lot better on the body,” he agrees.
Third base certainly should be a much better position for both the junior Bulldog and Mississippi State’s offensive order. Getting his bat in the lineup and keeping there a whole season is reason enough to take a proven college catcher from behind the plate and send him about 30 yards to the north.
“I just want to play,” Collins said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s catcher, third base or outfield. I just want to go out and play.”
Now before delving into the defensive aspects, let’s be clear: Collins will get his chances to wear the big mitt again in 2016. “Gavin will still be available to catch,” Coach John Cohen said. As much faith as Mississippi State has in gifted young backstop Elih Marrero, and as impressive as juco transfer Jack Kruger has been in fall and preseason scrimmaging, it’s a wonderful luxury having old Dog Collins on the catcher roster.
“It’s going to be one of the strengths of our ball club,” Cohen said.
‘Strength’ though is a word also reflecting this expansion of Collins’ job. And, his sizable collection of gloves. Keeping Collins strong and healthy was a challenge all 2015 based on catching-hand bone woes. He missed the first 13 games of the sophomore season after surgery, and ended-up starting just 25 games at catcher once he returned to regular status in late March.
Collins got five other starts before then, as a rightfielder. Naturally this was to let him swing the stick much as possible. But lost-time and timing showed all spring as Collins finished with a .228 average, far from the 2014 rate of .304 that earned him Freshman All-SEC. Which by the way, was the first time a Diamond Dog backstop had been named to the league’s all-rookie squad.
Those ’14 numbers (he batted twenty points better in league play than overall, remember) are why Cohen and staff have committed to getting Collins on the field however necessary, and in the order every day possible. Oh, and keeping him there. Thus, third base as the first option.
“I’m able to recover better,” Collins said.
Actually Collins has gotten too familiar with recovery over his career. He was sidelined a game into his senior season at El Toro High School in Lake Forest, Cal., by an ankle injury. That setback didn’t keep college offers from arriving thick and fast, with Collins ultimately selecting Mississippi State and SEC baseball over a stout list of West Coast programs.
Now Collins gets his chance to remind the scouts who tabbed him a national top-25 catcher prospect back in 2013 that his repertoire involves much more than a mask. While no one watching fall scrimmages and preseason intrasquads is comparing Collins to say a Pete Young or other legendary Diamond Dog third basemen, the fit seems pretty smooth so far.
“It’s just my confidence level,” Collins said. I’ve built confidence up over there. I’ve taken a lot of ground balls over there to get prepared.” Thing is this should not be too much of a physical transition anyway. Collins’ arm strength is obvious after some impressive ‘strikes’ thrown from behind the plate. The footwork ought be fine as well at a do-or-die corner spot, too.
Fact is, Collins just believes he has adapted to a different angle on the field with no second-guessing. “I think that has something to do with my comfort over there,” he said. Though, to be sure, he’ll be just as comfortable pulling on the padding again when Cohen prints a ‘2’ by his name in the order.
“I don’t think it makes that much of a difference. Because I try to separate my offense from my defense. One day my offense may be thriving while my defense may be suffering.” Or, vice-versa. “So, I try not to mix them together.”
Ahhh, but on the days the glove is just as hot as the bat? Now that is a great way for Collins to thrive in this junior Mississippi State season.