Tigers' McCann has upside to be everyday catcher
Right-handed-hitting catcher James McCann won't just be remembered for hitting a bird perched on the backstop with a foul ball during Spring Training this year. No, there's much more to McCann's 2015 Spring Training story.
He had an outstanding offensive and defensive spring for the Detroit Tigers as he competed for the team's backup catcher job. He hit .348 in 49 plate appearances covering 21 games in Florida. His spring statistics came after a 2014 season at Triple-A Toledo where he hit .295 with seven home runs and 54 RBIs in 460 plate appearances. He hit .336 against left-handed pitching, which bodes well for potential success if he does in fact remain a platoon catcher this season.
At age 24, McCann may play only against left-handers, but that could certainly change. He has a very bright future and many people feel he could eventually become a starting catcher in Detroit.
McCann played his high school baseball at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, Calif., in southern Santa Barbara County.
After graduating high school and being selected as a catcher by the Chicago White Sox in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft, McCann instead attended the University of Arkansas. He hit .306 with six home runs, 14 doubles and 11 stolen bases in his junior year. He was a semifinalist for the prestigious Johnny Bench Award, given to the best catcher in NCAA Division I.
Because the Tigers did not have a first-round selection in the 2011 Draft, McCann was the first player selected by the club. He was taken in the second round, and he signed his contract later that year.
McCann has spent parts of four seasons in the Tigers' Minor League system. He also played 10 games in the Dominican Winter League in 2013. In his Minor League career, he has a composite .266 batting average. He had a rough time when he first played at Double-A Erie, hitting only .200 in 2012. Then he went to the Arizona Fall League, where I saw him play for Mesa. He didn't hit much better there, finishing at only .195. He returned to Erie in 2013 and hit .277. Then he had that fine season at Toledo last year. So his offensive momentum is growing and his continued development is successful.
On Sept. 1, 2014, McCann made his Major League debut as Detroit defeated the Cleveland Indians. He didn't get to hit in the game, but he went on to make 12 plate appearances in nine games, hitting .250 with three hits, including a double. He stole one base.
At the plate, McCann has some pop in his bat and should hit some home runs, even in a limited role. He has made some adjustments to his swing and the results have been positive. He generally makes contact, using the barrel of the bat well. He knows how to work a count. Like many hitters, he feasts on fastballs and has trouble with off-speed pitches and breaking balls. But that's improving as well. He has a bit of an uppercut in his swing and gets his share of balls in the air.
Until his recent improvement on offense, McCann had been considered a "defense-first" type catcher. At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, he is strong and athletic. He calls a very good game, handling pitchers well and using good mechanics to receive pitches efficiently and effectively. McCann has the ability to frame pitches and give his pitcher an advantage with smart mechanics behind the plate. He has a strong arm with a good release, strong carry and accuracy on attempted steals. Last year McCann threw out 42 percent of potential base stealers at Toledo and he has a career average of 40 percent.
The future for McCann is very positive. This may be the beginning of a big league career that includes continued offensive improvement and self-confidence. It is quite possible he could become a regular, everyday catcher with the experience he gains this year. He has the upside, the ability and the drive to claim a full-time role at some point in the future.