White Sox' Zack Collins important piece in World Series puzzle

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Collins gives Sox important piece to World Series puzzle originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Chicago White Sox had two All-Star catchers a year ago. And what a luxury it was.

The pairing of Yasmani Grandal and James McCann had an expiration date, of course, with McCann having earned a No. 1 catching job in the big leagues and Grandal inked to a long-term deal to top the team's depth chart.

But just because McCann is now a New York Met hasn't meant the White Sox are stuck with just one reliable backstop.

RELATED: It's time to start talking about Rodón's Cy Young candidacy

Zack Collins has been turning heads since the spring, and he hasn't stopped. A first-round pick who was always more touted as a hitter than as a defender, the work he's done improving his play behind the plate has paid off big time, and the rave reviews keep pouring in.

"He's progressed a lot as a catcher," White Sox starting pitcher Carlos Rodón said Friday night. "We've known he can swing it. He swung it in college. And the defensive aspect, it's really grown over the last couple years here, especially game-calling and receiving. It's been a pleasure to throw to him."

Indeed, these two have formed quite the pair. Collins was behind the plate for Rodón's no-hitter earlier this season, and he's caught him all but once since, including in Friday night's dominating performance against the New York Yankees, which saw Rodón set a new career high with 13 strikeouts and walk nobody in six scoreless innings, elbowing out some room in the Cy Young conversation.

Collins has impressed other White Sox pitchers, too, and caught two days prior, when Lucas Giolito turned in a stellar outing against the Minnesota Twins, allowing one run and striking out 11 in eight innings.

Considering how much praise Giolito heaped on McCann for helping him with his transformation from struggling youngster to Cy Young candidate, the positive words to go along with the positive results show the White Sox have an important contributor in Collins as they chase a championship in 2021.

"Hopefully, (Grandal) has good health all season, catches 110 games, that’s 52 games. (If he catches) 120, that’s 42 games your second catcher catches. In a close race, that’s a difference maker," White Sox manager Tony La Russa said Saturday. "To have that kind of depth is really important.

"Best part about it, in Zack’s case, as far as being part of the team, he went into spring training, (and) he won the job. He wasn’t the heir (apparent) that was gifted it. That always earns your respect."

Though Collins' offensive production, the part of his game he was known for, has been a mixed bag so far — he's batting under .200 but has still managed to get on base more than 30 percent of the time — his game-calling and defensive abilities have been impressive.

As he's proven to the White Sox, as well as fans and observers, that he has the ability to handle a major league pitching staff, he's managed to prove something to himself at the same time.

"I think that I've shown myself, too, how good I can be back there," he said. "Up until this point, I think I've called great games, I've blocked well, I've thrown well. Everything I've done communicating with these guys has been good.

"Just got to keep it going and continue to work hard."

The hard work has paid off so far. And if Collins can keep it up, then the question of whether the White Sox would have a No. 2 catcher that can work with the pitchers and excel defensively will be answered, another piece of the puzzle they hope reveals a World Series at season's end.

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