Detroit — The last two spring trainings, Tyler Collins has been a surprise star — a little-hyped outfielder who in February and March forced team brass to reconsider the Opening Day roster options.
He even made the team out of camp last year.
This year is different, though. Collins, if healthy, should be the Tigers’ fifth outfielder from Day 1.
Not that he’s looking at it that way.
“Obviously, I want to play for a big-league club and I think I’ve got a shot at it,” Collins said Friday from his home in Texas, following a hitting session. “But regardless, I want to be ready for whatever happens. Spring for me is all physical and mental preparation.”
But doesn’t the mentality change, given he was an afterthought in past springs — but is likely bound for Detroit this year?
“It shouldn’t,” Collins said, matter-of-factly. “It shouldn’t change at all, because at the end of the day, spring training’s to get ready for the season. And whether that’s in Detroit or wherever, it doesn’t matter.
“I still want to be ready to play.”
Collins, 24, had two stints in Detroit in 2014, the first in the spring when he didn’t get much playing time but still enjoyed the experience of being around such acclaimed ballplayers.
The second came as a September call-up, and he got noticed in a hurry, particularly with a clutch pinch-hit off Royals ace James Shields in the thick of the pennant race. He showed pop, hustle and some speed.
The Tigers will enjoy having such tools coming off the bench, a bench that has been weak in recent years.
While Collins knows the situation, he still doesn’t allow himself to get too excited. That said, he’s plenty pumped about getting to Lakeland, Fla., next month.
“I’m just excited because I’m tired of working out,” Collins said with a chuckle. “I don’t want to squat a hundred, million times anymore. I’m just ready to play baseball again, because I love it.”
The offseason has been busy for Collins.
It started with some downtime, which he gladly used to golf, hunt and fish. The five-day-a-week workouts — at two hours a pop — and six-day-a-week hitting sessions began just before Thanksgiving.
He still finds time for golf, though, even though he acknowledges that while he’s a long hitter, he’s no good.
“A couple days ago it was 45 out, and it was beautiful,” he said.
“Well,” Collins shot back, “it’s a lot better than the negatives y’all are dealing with!”
Fair enough. It’s interesting that Collins plays a lot of golf; you usually hear about the pitchers playing, because they have more downtime, and the swing doesn’t mess them up.
While Collins does almost everything left-handed — including hit and throw — he golfs right-handed.
“So it actually doesn’t mess with my swing,” he said.
Collins, a sixth-round pick by the Tigers in 2011 out of Howard College in Big Spring, Texas, has never been the Tigers’ biggest outfield prospect.
Even though he’s a near-shoo-in to make the Opening Day roster in 2015, he’s still not. That title, instead, goes to his good buddy Steven Moya, who gets all the hype, publicity and favorable Baseball America rankings.
Collins, meanwhile, goes about his business under the radar. Which would he prefer?
“To be honest, I don’t really listen or watch or read anything,” said Collins, whose father, Scott, is the one who reads and listens to all Tigers media reports. “I guess whatever publicity Moya gets, he deserves, because he’s a stud. He’s a big dude with a lot of talent.
“Whether it’s under the radar for me or not, I don’t really get into it too much. I guess I’ll plead the fifth and say I’m unaffected.”
Moya, the organization believes, needs more seasoning, likely at Triple-A Toledo this spring. Collins, with a more compact swing, is ready to contribute in whatever role the team needs him. Today, that role probably is the fifth outfielder, and the first option off the bench to pinch-hit or pinch-run.
He said his experience in 2014 helped him learn how to be a role player, rather than an everyday guy.
Collins has kept in touch with a few Tigers this offseason, including Nick Castellanos and J.D. Martinez — two guys who broke onto the scene in 2014, like Collins hopes to in 2015.
He’s also tried to get Ian Kinsler, a mentor to some young Tigers, over to hit with him, but, interestingly, Collins said Kinsler has been focused all winter on bumping up his stolen bases, and not his home runs.
The rest of the Tigers, Collins will catch up with next week, during the caravan around the state, and then TigerFest at Comerica Park. He’s looking forward to that, if not the weather.
“I’m gonna assume,” said Collins, “I’m gonna need every coat I own.”