'Full-speed ahead' Collins now calmer at plate

'Full-speed ahead' Collins now calmer at plate

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Tyler Collins says he's calmer, quieter now. He means that in reference to his plate approach, a project from hitting coaches Wally Joyner and David Newhan since late last season to remove unnecessary motion from his stance and let him focus on the ball.

"Smooth, controlled," Collins described it. "There's no more guessing or not seeing. Just see it, hit it. That's it."

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That calmness could also describe his overall approach to the game. The hyperactive rookie, who cracked the Opening Day roster against all expectations two years ago, then ended last year as the regular left fielder once Yoenis Cespedes was traded to the Mets, now has a slightly more veteran aura as he closes in on a potential role as the Tigers' extra outfielder.

"He's always been kind of interesting to me, even from two years ago," manager Brad Ausmus said. "I think he's maturing. He can get in his own way sometimes. He's very strong-willed. He's still learning that sometimes less is more, especially when it comes to hitting a baseball."

Collins' energy can be infectious when he's doing well -- and sometimes even when he isn't. Lost in the malaise of a last-place finish, a front-office change and speculation of Ausmus' future, there was a growth spurt from Collins, who hit .293 (22-for-75) with nine extra-base hits, 13 RBIs and an .856 OPS from Sept. 1 onward.

His kind of energy might well have played a role in Ausmus' return, and for a while, it played in his favor for a potential role in left field. Then the Tigers traded for Cameron Maybin in November and signed Justin Upton in January, filling the outfield.

Maybin's broken wrist three weeks ago opened a spot for an outfielder. Unless the Tigers get creative within camp or add somebody from the outside, Collins -- a left-handed hitter with some power who can play all three outfield spots -- is the favorite to fill the role.

It wouldn't involve regular playing time, which could be a challenge. Collins had a similar role two years ago and struggled, batting 2-for-14 over the first two weeks. A calmer batting stance, with fewer mechanisms to keep fresh, might better prepare him for it.

"If you want to be successful, you have to make sure you see the ball first," he said. "For me personally, I'm getting to a position where I'm doing that well."

A calmer Collins, now 25 years old, might help, too.

"He only knows one speed, and that is full-speed ahead -- even if there's a brick wall standing in front of him," Ausmus said. "I think he's learning that sometimes it's easier to go around the brick wall."

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.