SURPRISE, Ariz. — Tim Collins is hoping to show the Kansas City Royals that his stats are more important than his stature.
The 5-foot-7 left-hander with a 95 mph fastball and a knee-buckling curve has an opportunity to open the season in the Royals' bullpen after putting up eye-popping numbers in the minors.
"I just want to pick him up and burp him," said pitcher Luke Hochevar, who stands 6-5.
Collins said he has heard about every short joke, even while being compared to Billy Wagner, a small hard-throwing left-handed reliever with 422 career saves.
"Just listen around the clubhouse and they'll make short jokes, and I'll make them right back," Collins said Sunday. "That's the easiest way to deal with that. Obviously, I've been dealing with that my whole life. I'm accustomed to it."
Has Collins ever read an article about him that does not mention short, small, diminutive or tiny? "Nope," he replies.
Nor does he ever wish he was as tall as Hochevar, his fellow pitcher.
"That would be nice, but not really," Collins said. "It's nice being weird, not average."
Collins is anything but average on the mound. He has put up some mind-boggling numbers in the minors: 329 strikeouts in 223 innings, averaging 13.28 per nine innings. In 151 minor league games, he has held opponents to a .179 batting average.
Maybe his size, or lack of it, fools hitters. He seems to defy physics.
"I still haven't figured it out," Collins said. "It's still a mystery."
When Collins was a senior at Worcester (Mass.) Vocational High School, he said he weighed "130 pounds soaking wet" and was throwing in the low 80s. He wasn't drafted, but former Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi — who also is from Worcester — went to scout game a game for another pitcher. Collins was on the mound instead, and struck out all 12 batters he faced.
"I threw really good," Collins said. "He liked what he saw."
The Blue Jays signed Collins and he moved quickly in the minors, compiling a 1.58 ERA and 14 saves while striking out 98 for Lansing in the Midwest League. The next year, he struck out 99 in 65 2-3 innings for Dunedin of the Florida State League.
Then last season, he was swapped to the Atlanta Braves in a five-player trade on July 14, only to be sent to the Royals in another five-player swap.
"Three different organizations in three weeks," Collins said. "I went from hotel to hotel. I was living on couches. The first trade I didn't see coming at all. It was just a shock to me. The Blue Jays trade was a littler harder. I had come up through their system."
Collins pitched for New Hampshire, Mississippi and Omaha last season, going 3-1 with 15 saves and a 2.02 ERA in 56 games, allowing only 40 hits in 71 1-3 innings. He struck out 108 while walking only 27, taking time out to pitch for Team USA in a Pan-Am Games qualifier.
Dusty Hughes was the Royals primary left-handed reliever last season, but the Minnesota Twins claimed him on waivers in January. Manager Ned Yost said he would like to carry two or three left-handed relievers, giving Collins a good opportunity to break camp with the club.
The other candidates include Everett Teaford and Danny Duffy, who like Collins have not pitched an inning in the majors.
"He's a little unorthodox, but there's a lot of deception in that delivery, which is really, really good," Yost said. "It doesn't surprise me he throws that hard. Ron Guidry was a little guy and he threw extremely hard. It doesn't surprise me what he's capable of doing."