READING - If Zach Collier needs any incentive to move up to the next level, all he needs to do is look around the Reading Fightin Phils' cozy locker room in FirstEnergy Stadium. Put a card table in the middle of the room and you have to start climbing over teammates to get back to your locker.
Want elbow room? Move up another level.
Reading is just another step toward making it to the big leagues. Each step becomes steeper in this journey. Get off to a solid start in rookie ball and the steps become easier; struggle that first year and the steps become daunting. Nobody ever said making it to the bigs would be easy.
Collier's journey has already been derailed twice. He missed the 2010 season after undergoing surgery to repair a broken right hamate bone and a torn tendon in his right wrist. And before he could even get on the field in 2012, he was told on Sept. 8, 2011, his 21st birthday, that he was suspended for the first 50 games of the season for using Adderall, a banned stimulant.
"It's already a tough sport as it is," said Collier, an outfielder who was the 34th pick in the 2008 draft, a first-round supplemental pick. "But once you make it tougher on yourself, like by not being positive and just staying focused on what needs to be done, you're making it a lot harder on yourself.
"The game's hard enough as it is. My thing is to stop making it harder by being focused on what it takes to prepare each day."
Collier was able to put the suspension behind him and had a solid 2012 season at Clearwater, hitting .269 and showing a little pop with a career-high six homers. The Phillies were impressed enough to send the lefthanded hitter to the Arizona Fall League, where he excelled, hitting .371 with a .461 on-base percentage. So impressed was the parent club that it added Collier to the 40-man roster.
Earning the spot on the 40-man is a step in the right direction, but there are no guarantees.
"That's only the beginning of it," said Collier of the inclusion. "There's always more that can be in store for someone in my position. So getting comfortable with the 40-man spot would be foolish. But if I really want to make it up there this year and be part of the atmosphere and win games and experience all that stuff, for me to settle now would not be the ideal way to look at it at all."
But the adjustment to Double A ball hasn't been easy. Collier is hitting .212 with four homers and 14 RBI in 44 games. He's not overly concerned.
"If there's a difference, it's more consistency from A ball to Double A. But being in the Fall League, I learned a lot about what's going to be expected of me coming here [to Reading].
"Everyone has their struggles, they start off slow, or they start out hot and end up by cooling off. But it's all about how you finish and how you're able to come back from it the next day. Yesterday was my best and the day before that, but you've got to continue to expect good things to happen every single day. And being consistently positive and staying focused, not getting discouraged when things are not going your way.
"It hasn't gone my way since the start of the season, but keeping that positive mind-frame, I think that's what being a major leaguer is. He sees himself as a success, because he's been successful at a high level. Just keeping your mind right will definitely help you out in the long run."
Joe Jordan, the Phillies' director of player development, sees a lot of positives in Collier's game.
"His overall game should be what's attractive," Jordan said. "He can play all three outfield spots, he's improving as far as baserunning - stealing bases. Although he's had his offensive struggles this year, he's going to turn it around. He's got too much of a history of being a good hitter."
After hitting .271 for the Gulf Coast Phillies in the rookie league, Collier split the next season between Williamsport and Lakewood, hitting a combined .221 in 116 games. He did steal 20 bases, but was caught seven times. He bounced back in 2011, after the wrist surgery, to hit .255. He stole 35 bases but was caught 13 times.
As for being a first-round pick and the expectations that come with that, Collier has been around long enough to know what the deal is.
"Earlier on, when I was younger, like 17, 18, I definitely thought there was pressure. But now, I kinda just think, when it's my time, it's my time.
"My view on it is to trust yourself and don't put any added pressure or unnecessary pressure on yourself from outside, from people and what they expect of you - just focus on your own expectations. You just give it your all every day and that positive mind frame will take you a long way."
And then there's that cramped locker room.
"It's the kind of stuff like this," Collier said from a corner of the room, "that makes you want to get out - not in a bad way, but it gives you more motivation to play hard and not worry when things happen. There's always something else that needs to be done, something else to accomplish."