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Tigers player preview: Will James McCann make the Opening Day roster?

The BYB community clamors for McCann to catch, at least part-time in 2015.

Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

James McCann hails from Santa Barbara, California, so how did he end up with the Tigers? The Chicago White Sox drafted him in 2008 out of high school, but in the 31st round. McCann wisely declined the professional opportunity and attended the University of Arkansas. McCann stands a tall six feet, two inches and played in the SEC for three years. The Tigers drafted him in the second round of the 2011 draft.

McCann adapted to professional ball quickly. He played briefly in 2011, all of 14 games at the Rookie and Low A levels. With extensive college experience, he was assigned to Advanced-A Lakeland to start 2012. A .288 batting average and .345 on-base percentage earned him a mid-season promotion to Double A, only 59 games into his professional career. Including an assignment in the Arizona Fall League, young James played 123 games in 2012. A repeat assignment in Erie started 2013, where his hitting improved. His offseason included 10 games in the Dominican Republic, for a 129-game year. In 2014, he spent the year at Triple-A Toledo, and again his hitting improved. This time a September call-up to Detroit was the capstone of a 118-game season. To his other accolades, I add "durability."

McCann's season, and the organization's culling of the top minor leaguers, earned him a #2 spot in our offseason prospect rankings. Rob had many comments to warm the winter hearts of prospect watchers.

"gaudy offensive numbers against left-handed pitching ... perfect platoon partner for Avila in 2015 ... McCann already has the defensive chops to be an MLB catcher ... John Sickels of Minor League Ball called him an "excellent defensive catcher" ... McCann has thrown out 41 percent of baserunners in his minor league career."

And he only tempered the praise with a few lukewarm thoughts, including:

"he doesn't project to have much power ... His pitch recognition against righties also needs work ... McCann is a below average runner overall"

That last comment may have struck a nerve. Apparently McCann is competitive and wanted some respect for his young legs, as he won the catchers' speed competition this spring.

Contract status

With under a month of service time at the MLB level, James McCann must only be paid the major league minimum, $507,500 if he makes the team. The earliest he can be a free agent is 2021. With Alex Avila entering free agency after this season, the Tigers may have developed cost-controlled catching for the entire decade of the 2010s.

Stats and projections
2014 (AAA) 460 7 49 54 9 .295 .343 .427 .347
2015 (spring) 26 0 4 2 0 .480 .500 .560 .453*
Steamer 173 3 16 16 2 .241 .277 .345 .276
ZiPS 437 6 39 40 6 .244 .280 .345 .277

*calculated using 2014 weights

Jon argued that McCann is the right platoon partner for Avila, begging for at least 60 games:

This isn't a mindless plea to completely bench Avila. The Tigers need that offensive boost against lefties, however. They can sacrifice some of Avila's work behind the plate to get McCann -- a good defensive catcher in his own right, according to scouting report -- in the lineup against good matchups where Avila would struggle in hapless fashion ... The lighter workload might also unlock some of Avila's offensive game if he's kept fresher throughout the season.

I would be pleased with a target of 80 games, with McCann getting all at-bats against lefties and starting against some righties to provide Avila more rest.

Earlier this week, Rob asserted that McCann's hot spring would make it a "complete shock if the 24-year-old backstop isn't in Detroit to start the season."

But Ausmus demonstrated a Leyland-like loyalty last year in the bullpen. McCann has three options remaining, while Holaday only a sketchy two. And in our Bryan Holaday preview, I projected McCann would start the season in Toledo. So I predict that McCann will not arrive in Detroit until May, but then share catching duties with Avila and Holaday for the remainder of the season as Avila makes occasional trips to the disabled list. By the end of the season, the McCann may lead the catching trio.