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MadFriars Q&A: Padres AZL Manager Michael Collins

Managing in the Arizona League is a job that's part coach, part teacher, and part camp counselor. We talked with Michael Collins, who's back in the AZL after a season with Lake Elsinore, about the players he was charged with helping as they began their professional careers in the desert this summer.

MadFriars: I’ll start with the guys who didn’t stay through the trip. Fernando Tatis is obviously a guy who came in with the lineage, with a lot of attention because of the trade. What did you see in the time he was with you from the end of extended?

Michael Collins: It was quite a lot of fun to watch him grow. I think a lot of the things we’re trying to do offensively here, he took to a little bit. It was really nice to see him take some of those things he’s worked on into games and the results speak for themselves. Anyone who watched him play for a couple of days could clearly see that the talent is off the charts. He’s an exciting young player to watch.

Mechanically, you can see the echo of his dad up there at the plate with his hands up high. Were there things you worked with him on with his swing?

Michael Collins: I don’t think there were too many adjustments with things like the hands and the feet. We just really tried to work on trying to refine and repeat the path to the ball and his turn in the approach and swinging. I think he cleaned that up and became a lot more consistent with the swing throughout the summer. I think one of the things that helps him and separates him is his awareness of the game. Obviously, he spent a lot of time growing up around the game and he kind of sees the game a little bit differently than some of the other players at this level just having experienced professional baseball as a child.

One thing that stood out about Hudson Potts, who is still so young as a draftee, is that he’s bigger than listed. What did you get from him in his seven weeks with you?

Michael Collins: He’s a true professional. For such a young player to come in out of this year’s draft, step in and the way he went about his business both offensively and defensively, he was a professional. He came in with a purpose and he worked hard. I wouldn’t say that I necessarily did a whole lot with him to be honest. He came in and took care of his business, and again the results speak for themselves. He went out there each night and put together some of the most professional at-bats in the league. To see him as a young player come in and take that kind of responsibility was very impressive.

How much do you think them moving around the field defensively impacts their ability to translate what you’re working on in your instruction into games?

Michael Collins: It certainly presents some challenges playing different positions, but I think at this level, exposing them to as many situations as possible hopefully speeds up that learning curve and opens the door for more opportunities. If they both have the ability to play anywhere on the infield should the opportunity arise to play at a higher level, they’re prepared to go and take that opportunity whatever position that might be. Tatis, obviously, is very very gifted on the infield. I think you could put him anywhere and not worry about him. Potts as well, the hands and the feet move very, very well. Obviously with the arm and the throwing, he’s still to refine some of those things, but again, a guy who can move around the infield. You can give him instruction and just let him run with it. Neither of them are guys you have to worry about positioning or understanding the game. They’re out there playing hard and have a pretty good idea of what they’re doing.

You’ve got a real range of guys in the outfield. It seems like getting Tre Carter out there really gives you a different profile.

Michael Collins: Absolutely. He’s a very exciting young player. You watch the tools, they stand out immediately. The run, the arm strength is pretty good and the ability to go catch a fly ball is really impressive. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to play for a little bit, but now that he’s fully cleared, he’s very exciting. And good for him to get off to such a great start with the bat as well. It’s always nice to get those first couple of hits out of the way.

A guy who's got a little less name awareness, but who showed some impressive power working in BP while he comes back from the minor leg issue was Jack Suwinski.

Michael Collins: [He was] a little bit later joining us than some of the other drafted players. He was probably a little slower to get his feet underneath him and get used to professional baseball, but again, for a young player to step in and adjust so quickly to playing every day and controlling centerfield. Again he’s another guy who’s very driven and professional in the way he goes about his business. He comes in and takes care of his routines without anyone having to check in or remind him.

Defensively, does he look like someone who can stay in center for a while?

Michael Collins: Like the infielders, we want to rotate those outfielders around as much as possible. I think, plyaing in centerfield, taking that responsibility of the outfield, of controlling the outfield moving, being able to watch the pitch from directly behind the pitcher is a great leadership quality for any of them. As much as we can, we’ll try to get all of those guys in centerfield and rotate them around. Then, if an opportunity arises at another level, if those guys have experienced it here, those guys will be ready to move out and control that at any level.

Shifting over to behind the plate, a position that's near and dear to your heart, it was good to see Bryant Aragon finally looking like he's able to cut his throws loose back there.

Michael Collins: I thought last night for last Aragon was a great game. I thought he made some real strides forward. I know he’s been working on some different things with his setup and receiving pitches, and especially the throwing. It looks like the arm strength is coming along a little bit – I’ve seen a little more in the last few weeks than in the past and he made a couple really nice throws last night. Again, a young player making a lot of adjustments.

And yet, there were times you could really see in his body language at times that this is still a chore for him.

Michael Collins: A lot of young players are dealing with some failures that they haven’t dealt with as amateurs or as young players. Now we’re competing against other quality professional players in some tough conditions out here – it gets hot and some of these games can get a little bit long. But again it’s all part of the learning experience for this level.

What have you been watching with Jose Lezama back there?

Michael Collins: I think he’s done a really nice job with receiving and working with the pitchers. One thing we’ve addressed is the tempo of the game, trying to pick it up and keep those pitchers moving as much as possible. Again, he’s another young player so kind of stepping out of his shell to help pitchers communicate pitches, as well as his own catching, has been impressive and hopefully will continue to advance for him.

Is there anyone whose progression has really stood out to you from where they were when you saw them at instructs last fall or in spring training this year?

Michael Collins: You know, you see these guys day in and day out, and you lose site of the fact that just a couple of months ago they were in high school and now here they are as a professional. You see them grow from being a student to being a professional. Unfortunately, Reinaldo Ilarraza’s spent a little time injured, but to watch him grow and be around the game and continue to understand the game is kind of a fun thing to watch.

On the pitching side, Andres Muñoz has some things going that are just really natural and very impressive.

Michael Collins: He’s been a fun one to watch. Obviously the velocity and the stuff has always been there. He’s really throwing hard right now. Obviously, last night was rough, but the last few outings before that had been really clean. Everything’s been around the zone, quality pitches in the zone.

You talked about the range of ages out here. Is there anyone from that group of college seniors who’s really stuck out because of either the performance or the work he’s put in?

Michael Collins: You watch someone like a Tucker Pennell. The way that he controls the game, you can see that there’s a bit of a different level and that he’s played college baseball in a big program. When he’s back behind the plate he’s loud, he’s vocal, and he’s out there running the field for us, so it’s fun to watch that. Some of the pitchers– Ben Sheckler, Kyle Gauthier and Jimmy McDade. Professionals down there in the bullpen, prepare themselves to get ready to pitch. Again, they’ve just been around the game longer, seen some ballgames, so it makes for a fun mix, and hopefully some of the positives from each guy rub off on the others.

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