Tyler Collins credits 'wizard' Wally Joyner for improvement

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Anyone can look at 2016 and see Tyler Collins fits as the Tigers think a season ahead.

They could be shy two outfielders, Yoenis Cespedes and Rajai Davis, who can turn their autumn free-agent tickets into new deals with new teams should the Tigers not extend either gent.

And even if, say, Cespedes, a young (29) and talented all-around player whom the Tigers have loved since his days in Cuba, would re-up for a longer stint in Detroit, the Tigers would enjoy carrying a left-handed hitting outfielder with power, which is Collins' job description.

Collins was brandishing his long-ball bat Friday in a game at Durham when he hit two home runs for Triple A Toledo in a 10-7 victory.

Collins, of course, played 17 games for the Tigers during a spring fill-in assignment, batting .275, with two home runs, and an .808 OPS. He worked at a corner outfield spot and, in a pinch, could guard center field. He turned 25 on June 6 and might be settling in as a player who next time he's called to Detroit will stay.

And if that happens, his time with the Tigers (he was with the team for a couple of stints in 2014) probably had the most influence on how he approaches his at-bats.

"I feel like I'm finally learning I don't have to hit a 700-foot homer, I can hit a 350-foot homer," Collins said Sunday as he waited with the Mud Hens in the Norfolk, Va., airport for a flight home to Toledo. "I'm just creating more consistency with my swing. I'm making better contact. It's kind of what I've learned over the last year."

And the person who schooled Collins?

"Wally," he said of Tigers hitting coach Wally Joyner. "That guy's a wizard."

Organizationally, the Tigers are happy with his timeline. They simply want Collins to show during his time at Toledo — or back in Detroit, if need arises — he has graduated to that next level of steady hitter who can be counted on to take regular big-league shifts.

They see him as something akin to former corner outfielder, and left-handed hitter, Andy Dirks. With one significant difference: Collins has more power.

"He played better up here than in Toledo," said Al Avila, the Tigers assistant general manager, speaking of Collins' 17-game spring interlude in Detroit. "I don't know, sometimes with players. I think it's just mental.

"Tyler Collins could be a guy we look to put in mix in 2016, although I don't think anyone can tell you right now what that mix will be."

Collins was a sixth-round pick in 2011, from Howard College, in Texas, which was Collins' transfer school after he partied a bit too much at Baylor and ran into some academic issues.

The Tigers have always liked his bat and upside, with emphasis on the muscle carried by an outfielder listed at 5-foot-11, 215 pounds.

It's a matter, again, of avoiding batting blackouts. Of hitting at the brand of steady clip Collins has been swinging at Toledo, and at Detroit, in 2015.

"With any major-league player, the reason you're a major-league player and a regular, as opposed to a bench player, or a fourth or fifth outfielder, is that an everyday player is consistent in his defense and in his offense," Avila said. "If he's not that good of a defensive player, his offense has to be a little better, and vice versa.

"In the case of Tyler Collins, he's got the ability to be an everyday player, but you need to see that consistency day in and day out. We know he's capable of that. We know he's more in control of his emotions."

As he sat at the airport gate Sunday, Collins thought about 2015, his numbers at Detroit, and his ongoing progress at Toledo. And he pondered why he seems always to impress people most when he plays with the Tigers.

"I just think that's the way the cookie crumbles sometimes," he said. "It's more irony than anything. I try to take the same approach every time."

As long as that approach leads to hits, Collins will be in Detroit's minds. And an hour's drive from Comerica Park.