How White Sox will use Zack Collins, Yermín Mercedes in 2021

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Vinnie Duber
·5 min read
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How Sox plan to use Collins, Mercedes during season originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

At one point this spring, Tony La Russa said that having three catchers on the White Sox roster would not be ideal.

But as the team starts the 2021 regular season, there they are as part of the 26-man group for Opening Day: Yasmani Grandal, Zack Collins and Yermín Mercedes, three catchers on the White Sox roster.

The White Sox surprised with Tuesday's release of Jonathan Lucroy, the veteran backstop not making the team and losing the backup-catcher battle that he long looked capable of winning. La Russa said earlier this month that handling a big league pitching staff was the No. 1 thing he was looking for in Grandal's backup, and Lucroy's been doing that for more than a decade. Lucroy received rave reviews from White Sox starting pitchers all spring long, and though he received minimal at-bats, he made the most of them and put up strong offensive numbers.

RELATED: Roster breakdown: Sox pick 26-man group for Opening Day

But Collins and Mercedes impressed, too, Collins even more so than Lucroy. Finally getting regular at-bats, Collins swung a terrific bat, something that didn't come as much of a surprise, but also earned plenty of praise for his evolution behind the plate as a defender and a game-caller. After an impressive spring, he's Grandal's backup, an outcome that was apparently expected behind the scenes.

"I write down a draft roster before I get to spring training every spring, trying to predict, without any injuries, how we would break," general manager Rick Hahn said Tuesday. "My personal expectations, as well as I think the bulk of us around here, was that one of the young kids would take the backup catching role.

"I know a lot was written to the contrary, but this was kind of the expectation on the way in and in fact something we discussed with Jonathan directly before he signed."

In the wake of the injury to Eloy Jiménez, it seemed the White Sox could take advantage of having both Lucroy and Collins on the roster, allowing Lucroy to utilize his veteran expertise working with the pitchers and Collins to swing his potentially impactful bat as a DH. But while carrying three catchers will provide some additional offense to help make up for Jiménez's absence, the White Sox are thinking differently.

Collins is the No. 2 catcher and will start there on days when Grandal doesn't. Collins will also see some time at DH, according to La Russa. But the manager made it clear that Collins is not the everyday DH, even if he's confident in Andrew Vaughn's ability to play a lot of left field.

What's that mean for Mercedes? It might mean not much other than a little extra oomph as a pinch-hitter or occasional starter every now and then.

"I think there's probably going to be enough playing time for one of them. I think the other one will be useful," La Russa said Tuesday. "Collins will start a game, but Mercedes is useful because if you pinch-run or pinch-hit, he can be the catcher, he can be the pinch-hitter, use him as a DH. I just think that we (see) opportunities where maybe (we want to) pinch-run or pinch-hit, and that's dangerous to do if you only have two catchers.

"(Collins is) going to get starts, that means at-bats. ... That DH spot will probably go to somebody that needs at-bats. I also think that Zack will be there, as well, because he's swinging well. But he's not going to be the DH all the time when he doesn't catch."

La Russa can put his daily puzzle together in numerous ways, of course. Grandal, Collins, Mercedes, Vaughn and even José Abreu can all be moved around in ways that allow La Russa to fill four positions on a daily basis and get other guys rest, if needed. You can even throw Jake Lamb, who can play first base, third base and DH, into that mix, too.

It might not mean a lot of playing time for Mercedes. But a fan favorite who has proved over the past two springs that he's capable of swinging a powerful bat, he could certainly bring value as a pinch-hitter on this team.

The most important thing to remember? With all the attention given to the battle for the backup job in camp, don't forget that Grandal is an All-Star catcher and the White Sox clear No. 1 backstop. Though he wasn't happy with his first year on the South Side in 2020, he still hit clutch homers, showed off his on-base skills and was good enough defensively to be named a Gold Glove finalist.

Throw in more consistent offensive production, and he could definitely show why he received the richest free agent deal in club history two winters ago, not to mention make a big difference in the White Sox chase for a championship.

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