When news of the Andy Dirks injury came out, TigsTown explored a number of alternate candidates. One of the men mentioned, but probably not seriously considered, was Tyler Collins, a left-handed bat, who hit .240 last year for Double-A Erie with a .760 OPS, and followed that up with a .260 average and a .738 OPS in the Arizona Fall League. He had a hot start with the ‘Wolves but slowed down considerably, and for much of the middle of the season, looked lost at the plate.
In other words, he fit the basic criteria, but didn't appear ready for such a jump from Double-A ball to the big leagues, given that he didn't crush Eastern League pitching. Despite that, he's out-lasted fellow prospects Daniel Fields and Steven Moya in big league camp, and getting more and more work. With 28 at-bats, he has the same number as Rajai Davis and more than fellow outfielders Ezequiel Carrera and Trevor Crowe.
Asked about Collins after his big game on Saturday, manager Brad Ausmus said, "Ideally he'd probably use a little bit more seasoning – but he's a little bit older," later continuing, "He's certainly been talked about quite a bit."
Despite the ideal scenario, he's making a serious case. Collins is getting work in all over the outfield, including in centerfield, an obvious potential test to see if he can be able to backup all three spots. Collins played center in high school and college, but had just one game of pro experience prior to starting to work there in Arizona last fall.
According to Ausmus, "He plays the game hard, he's solid outfielder, and there's a little bit of danger in his bat – he can really drive the ball, and he gives tough at-bats." Does the scouting report jive with what Ausmus has seen these few weeks of camp?
Collins has not been considered a good defender in the past, but he looked good enough in the outfield. He's a high effort guy, so he hustles to every ball he can. His reads off the bat were hit or miss in center on Saturday, tracking one soft liner very easily in which he clearly had the beat on a ball off the bat. But on another deep fly to right center, he didn't get a good jump and without above average speed, can't make up for it – in that case, the ball hung up in the air for awhile, so he was still able to get there, but shots like that would usually spell trouble.
His arm strength wasn't seriously tested, but as he's been mostly dedicated to left field, he's never been considered to have a strong arm that can be a weapon.
His high effort and natural athletic ability will make him good enough to hold up as a platoon player in left field, but his defense might not hold up over the course of a full season, and he would probably be limited to spot duty in center when needed.
At the plate, there's no question that Collins has power in his bat, when he barrels up the ball. His pitch recognition skills can be good, so when he works counts and looks to get a pitch he can drive, he can be a serious weapon. Those skills have varied historically, and he showed signs of that on Saturday, even though it worked out.
In his first at-bat, he went out of the zone to slap at a ball that resulted in a soft ground ball that could have easily been a double play. As fortune would have it, the ball somehow found a hole up-the-middle for a seeing-eye single, and was part of the big first inning.
The power is definitely for real though. Collins had two hard hit balls, probably the two hardest hit balls of the day, which is saying something given the Tigers scored 14 runs on 18 hits. On one ball, he got it in the inner-third of the plate and put a strong swing on it that drove the ball deep into right center field into the bullpens. It was a monster, no-doubt-about-it shot. On another, Collins went the other way and smacked a hard hit ground ball – it took its first hop on the infield dirt, but skipped all the way to the wall in left center, resulting in an easy triple.
On the bases, Collins won't wow anyone with his speed, but he also won't be a liability. His athletic ability and hustle gets him around the bases quick enough, and on Saturday, hitting behind Victor Martinez, he almost caught V-Mart from behind on a double, scoring from first base just a few beats after Martinez crossed the plate.
At 23 years of age, Collins is a bit more experienced than his prospect counterparts, and clearly came ready to play this spring. It's entirely possible the Tigers were thinking of him as a bench bat for sometime this season last summer, when they sent him to the AFL to get more seasoning, and get some work in center.
Collins has some weaknesses that appear to be glossed over, at least right now, as he's having a very good camp. But, the power is for real, and given his high effort and good attitude, he'd be a good fit in the clubhouse in a complementary role on the big league club.
With Dirks out, Ausmus is clearly looking for something different to go with Rajai Davis, and Collins offers that, unlike the other experienced players which are similar in skill-set to Davis. So, while he could probably use some more minor league at-bats, and might well have a bumpy debut, Collins is doing enough and has the skills to be the final outfielder when camp breaks in two weeks.