No. 12: James McCann, C
James McCann was the Tigers top selection in the 2011 draft. The Tigers didn't have a 1st round pick, so McCann was taken in the 2nd round out of the University of Arkansas. McCann signed late in 2011, so he only got to play 14 games between the GCL (Rookie league) and Class A-West Michigan. He mashed the pitching in rookie ball, so he was promoted quickly, but was absolutely overmatched at Class A. Obviously it was a ridiculously small sample size, but in 38 plate appearances there, McCann only managed 2 hits, 2 walks, and 12 strikeouts. Coming into the 2012 season, people were split as to just how highly they thought of him. Some were very high on his potential as a future starting catcher, and others saw his selection as a wasted draft choice. McCann was somewhat aggressively pushed to begin 2012, being assigned to Class A Advanced-Lakeland, where he performed pretty well, hitting .288 in 177 plate appearances, while striking out at a relatively solid 16% clip. Once Rob Brantly was pushed to Triple A-Toledo, McCann was promoted to Double A-Erie, where he struggled mightily with the bat, but showed his defensive prowess. He only posted a .509 OPS while at Erie (230 PA's), but threw out 40% of potential base stealers, worked with the pitching staff exceedingly well, and was an overall excellent defender for the SeaWolves.
McCann's calling card is his defense. He manages pitching staffs well, is an excellent on-field "captain" of sorts, meaning that he's very good at directing the defense and being a true leader. There's something to be said for having outstanding makeup as a player, and McCann has it. His arm grades out as an above-average tool, occasionally flashing plus on his throws. He is very athletic behind the plate, which is especially impressive considering that he's a pretty big guy at 6'2" and around 215-220lbs. He moves well, frames pitches well, and is good at blocking balls in the dirt. He's just one of those guys you watch and say "that guy is a ballplayer", plain and simple. He's sort of like Andy Dirks as a catcher, meaning that he doesn't have any glaring weakness, plays hard and the "right way", yet doesn't have any standout tools or skills. His offense is a bit troublesome, most notably with his hit tool. As it stands now, I have trouble projecting him as anything above a fringe-average hitter, which is all well and good for a backup catcher profile, but I think McCann has some more offense than he's shown. He has solid pop, but his underdeveloped hit tool hasn't allowed that to play as much in games as you'd like to see. He has enough power to hit between 10-15 HR's in the majors, but as I said, we've yet to see that power manifest itself in game situations yet. It's kind of hard to describe exactly what is limiting McCann's hit profile, because I didn't notice any big hitches or mechanical flaws when I've seen him (admittedly, I haven't seen him a lot). He struggles to catch up to advanced velocity, but does have solid pitch recognition skills and overall plate discipline. Just suffice it to say that he'll never be a "great hitter", but I think the projection is there for him to hit at an average level.
Based on projection, McCann has the tools to be an average regular behind the plate. I say "based on projection", because I think the bat has some left, but it's obviously unclear whether or not it will come along. He certainly has the defensive skills and makeup to start at C at the major league level, but you can't get away with a catcher batting in the low .200's as a starter (unless you're the 2009 Tigers...sigh). McCann has been rushed a bit, but it hasn't been a ridiculously fast climb. Ideally, he'll be able to go back to Double A-Erie in 2013, where he can make the necessary adjustments and hopefully advance his hitting some. His ultimate ceiling sits somewhere between good backup and average starter at this point, with the former being more likely. Either way, I believe he'll be a valuable major league catcher. Some could argue that Curt Casali is the better catching prospect, and at this time next year, he may very well be. But I think McCann has better potential/projection, and if he reaches it, he'll be the better of the two. With the Tigers having signed Brayan Pena, and with Bryan Holaday and Ramon Cabrera both slated for Triple A, there shouldn't be any big rush for McCann in 2013. If I had it my way, he'd spend all of 2013 at Double A, and maybe make a case for a major league promotion some time in 2014.