Small in stature, Collins a force on the hill

Small in stature, KC's Collins a force on the hill

Small in stature, Collins a force on the hill
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Tim Collins could be a carpenter in Worcester, Mass., right now. Instead he's sawing off bats for the Royals.

Collins loved to play baseball, but he was a little guy -- he's only 5-foot-7 now -- and he was overlooked. He thought he was heading toward the construction business when fate intervened in 2007.

J.P. Ricciardi, then the Toronto Blue Jays general manager, was in town to scout a 6-foot-7 left-hander, Keith Landers, in an American Legion game. As it happened, Landers didn't pitch, but Collins did, going four innings for Main South Post 341.

"I threw pretty good, I think I got 12 strikeouts in four innings," Collins said.

That would come under the "pretty good" category. Ricciardi thought so, and Collins was quickly signed by the Blue Jays and sent to Florida to pitch in the Gulf Coast League. Thus began a career during which the left-hander has pitched 151 Minor League games in relief with a 2.26 ERA, 32 saves and a 16-10 record.

Oh, and 329 strikeouts (against 96 walks) in just 223 innings.

Now Collins, 21, is in the running to become a lefty setup man for Royals closer Joakim Soria.

A startling development, indeed, for a kid who was undrafted and ignored despite a 91-5 record in four years at Worcester Technical High School.

"They just looked past me because of my size," he said. "I had no idea I was ever going to be in this position or even looked at."

Collins was acquired by the Royals on July 31 from Atlanta along with pitcher Jesse Chavez and outfielder Gregor Blanco in the deal that sent pitcher Kyle Farnsworth and outfielder Rick Ankiel to the Braves. That came just 17 days after Collins had been shipped to the Braves by the Blue Jays in another trade.

"It certainly made the year a lot longer with all the traveling I had to do," Collins said. "I lived out of a suitcase for the last three months of the season. Living on couches, going from hotel to hotel. It was definitely an experience."

He settled in nicely with the Royals' Triple-A club at Omaha, posting a 1.33 ERA, two wins and four saves in 15 games.

Royals manager Ned Yost recalled that pitchers Gil Meche and Luke Hochevar, who'd spent some rehab time with Omaha, returned to Kansas City with this unique description of Collins:

"On the mound, he's like a monster, but in the lockerroom, he's like a kid you want to pick up and burp."

Collins threw unusually hard for a pitcher who's 5-foot-7, or is he?

"I'm 5-foot-7 and three-quarters," he said. "Sometimes I get short-changed, but I like to have the three-quarters."

His delivery made it difficult for batters to follow the ball.

"He's unbelievable," said Omaha pitching coach Doug Henry. "The kid's got great deception. It's unconventional the way he sets up, but it's fun and he's a gamer. I played with Billy Wagner at Houston, and this kid has a lot of Billy Wagner in him. The mechanics are completely different, but he's coming at you with hard stuff and it's electric stuff."

How unusual are those mechanics?

"He sets up cockeyed to home plate, a high leg kick when he's in the windup. It's fun to watch, it's not something you see every day," Henry said.

Collins figures his fastball reaches up to 95 mph, probably about 10 mph more than his peak when he signed at 130 pounds. He gained weight -- he's at 165 now -- and strength in a rigorous program set up by trainer Eric Cressey, who has worked with many players, including Curt Schilling, at his gym in Hudson, Mass.

His fastball is rather straight.

"I actually get no movement, which is not a typical lefty," he said. "But I have very deceptive, very good late life on the fastball. What I think helps me is they don't expect it to come out of me. And I've got very short arm action, and I guess I hide the ball well."

Collins gives a lot of credit for his development to Worcester Tech coach Ron Silvestri and his father Larry Collins, also a teacher at the high school.

"I've been going to his softball games for years and years," he said of his dad. "I was throwing around a softball when I was 2 or 3 years old. He's been a big, big factor. He's been there every step of the way."

At his vocational high school, Collins took to carpentry. Heck, today he could be building kitchen cabinets for his mom, Sandra. Instead, he's building a case to be on the Royals' Opening Day roster.

"Coming from where I came from, it's kind of tough to even still believe I'm here," he said.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.