Fresh off an outstanding sophomore season with Howard Junior College (Texas), Collins had recently been tabbed the NJCAA Division I Player of the Year when Detroit selected him. Posting an eye-popping .488 batting average and .561 on-base percentage, Collins clubbed 34 doubles, four triples, 19 home runs and 82 RBIs for the Hawks over just 215 at-bats.
While a strong commitment to TCU may have scared others away, the Tigers were more than willing to roll the dice, and also come to the plate with an over-slot signing bonus of $210,000. Judging by his performance thus far, it's a good thing they did. Tyler Collins has done nothing but produce since the day he signed.
"I had a great option in TCU and Coach Schlossnagle runs a stellar program making it a difficult decision for me," Collins stated when asked about his decision to bypass his commitment to TCU.
"I took a lot of time to talk to my family, and with God; and just decided to turn pro. I just felt like it was my time to start my professional career."
After signing, Collins spent one game in the GCL before he was assigned to short season-A ball in Connecticut. Despite playing in just 42 games, Collins led the team in home runs (eight), produced the second highest total of doubles (ten) and knocked in 31 RBIs.
Looking to polish his game, Collins took his bat overseas as he elected to participate in the Australian Baseball League last winter. Once again Collins posted impressive numbers, earning himself a spot on the World All-Star Squad. Taking full advantage of his day in the spotlight, Collins took home the All-Star Game MVP Award after finishing the day 2-for-5 with a three-run homer.
"The main gain I had from Australia was that going into spring training I was only a couple weeks off of live pitching," said Collins. "Where most of the guys were getting their timing and eyes back, I was just refreshing my swing with minor adjustments."
Collins' theory proved true, as he remained hot throughout spring training earning an aggressive assignment to Advanced-A Lakeland in the Florida State League.
Refusing to be intimidated by the FSL and its rich history as a pitchers league, Collins has crushed the opposition since day one. His .299 batting average and 59 RBIs respectively rank tenth and eighth best in the FSL this season. Collins has kept his strikeouts at a tolerable ratio while increasing his walk per plate appearance rate to 10.2%, thanks largely in part to a team high 45 walks. Tyler attributes a good deal of this season's balanced approach and success to his work with Larry Herndon.
"[Larry Herndon] is a tremendous coach and cares very much about his players, so when he helps you make an adjustment, you do your best to do it," said Collins. "Staying through the ball has been a common theme. Flattening out my swing has helped. The best adjustment has been getting my pitch to hit. I would like to say I'm an aggressive hitter, but a controlled aggression has really made a difference."
Using his raw strength, tremendous bat speed and gap-to-gap approach Collins has also been a doubles machine for the Flying Tigers. His 30 doubles are currently second best in the FSL this season.
"If I were talking to aspiring players I would say simply gap-to-gap," Collins stated. "There is much success with a gap-to-gap approach. Also, I try to have a play every at-bat. I may have to adjust that plan, but I always try to have a plan."
"Without a doubt [though] it's getting my pitch to hit, even if I have to spit on a strike early. If I can lay off the early breaking balls in the dirt or chase fastballs, the pitcher doesn't want to walk you, so [I'll] get that pitch that you can drive."
Collins' contributions to Lakeland's success aren't simply limited to the batters box either. Despite his strong, burly, fullback build, Collins has better wheels than one might expect. And, he's not afraid to use his speed either. Routinely flashing his sneaky plus speed, Collins has been a pest on the base paths this season, already swiping 17 bags.
"I like to run," said Collins. "I feel like I don't look like I should be running to the other team so it helps with the element of surprise."
As impressive as his season and brief career have been from a statistical standpoint, there's much more to the 22-year-old prospect than the numbers on the back of his bubblegum card. Collins is a hardworking, mature young man that plays the game the right way. Tyler Collins could probably fall out of bed and hit a baseball. Still, he works his tail off to perfect his craft; determined to improve all aspects of his game. While it's easy to admire his talents, it's even easier to respect his work ethic and level headed, humble approach to the game that we all love.
"All I can worry about is my first at-bat tomorrow," said Collins on his future. "If I play hard tomorrow and try to get better each day, then that is all I can control. The rest is out of my hands."
James R. Chipman is the Lakeland Flying Tigers correspondent for TigsTown. Be sure to follow him on twitter @JAYRC_TigsTown.