Finding the positive with Zach Collier

Samuel Getty / Harrisburg Senators

After posting a .285/.336/.425 slash line in 64 games with the Harrisburg Senators last year, Zach Collier earned a promotion to Triple-A Syracuse in late June. The veteran player had impressed the Nationals’ brass in his first season with the organization for his ability to play all three outfield positions as well as his considerable tools at the plate.

Despite the praise and extensive experience, Collier’s name was absent from all affiliates when minor league rosters were announced just days before the season began. An injury to his ankle late in spring training forced him to start the year on Harrisburg’s disabled list and assigned to extended spring training.

“The timing of his injury was bad for him,” manager Matt LeCroy said.

So instead of heading north with fellow Nationals minor leaguers, Collier toiled away in Florida recovering and rehabilitating. But like much of the struggles and hurdles that have come Collier’s way in the past, he doesn’t dwell on the negative but instead learns from every step so he can apply it in the future.

“I just had to keep in mind that while I was down there I could take advantage of that time to work on some things and I feel like my swing was one of those things,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I had the greatest spring. I didn’t feel all that comfortable. So I think that time I had down there was big for me.”

For the 26-year-old it was just another example of finding the positive when so many others wouldn’t.

In his young life, Collier has already undergone two heart surgeries for a defect, an anomalous left coronary artery, that restricted the amount of oxygen his heart could receive. His first procedure took place when he was a 16-year-old high school sophomore and his second after his career in the Philadelphia organization washed out after six middling seasons in the minors. Collier played the entire 2015 season with the independent Lancaster Barnstormers to prove to Major League organizations that he was both healthy and still as talented as ever.

After his ankle healed and he was game ready, Collier joined the Senators before their series last weekend in Bowie. The outfielder played sparingly in the last week and had amassed only 12 at-bats in limited action before Saturday night’s game against the same Baysox at FNB Field.

In his first at-bat, Collier crushed an 0-1 offering over the bullpen and boardwalk in right field to pace the Senators an early 3-0 lead off pitcher Chris Tillman, who was starting on a MLB rehab assignment. It was an advantage on the scoreboard the Senators would never relinquish. “I take an at-bat at a time regardless of who is on the mound,” Collier said.

“That was good for him and good for our club,” LeCroy said. “That was a big run.”

Getting consistent playing time is going to be difficult with Andrew Stevenson, Alec Keller, and Yadiel Hernandez entrenched as the starting outfield. “I think he can be a big part of this team even though he’s not going to be in there every day,” LeCroy said.

But once again Collier finds the positive attitude in the circumstance. “Going through this is helping me to prepare myself to come off the bench when we play National League games,” the outfielder said. “Learning how to have a quality at-bat and put the bat on the ball.”

LeCroy is relying on the veteran to be a presence in the clubhouse and on the diamond for his young squad. “Once he gets going, we saw what can happen last year. He can carry you for a while.”

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