Entering his first full season with Double-A Erie, James McCann has taken a leap forward offensively. His .720 OPS through 70 games marks a drastic improvement from his .509 OPS in 64 games in Erie last season. The 23-year-old McCann has some time to further develop his hit tool and make a case for his place on the big-league roster in a year or two.
Given the Tigers’ current situation behind the plate, only a rash of injuries would give McCann an opportunity to play at the big league level. Brayan Peña, Alex Avila, and Bryan Holaday are situated above him on the depth chart, with Avila and Holaday under club control for a few more years each. Avila’s offensive woes coupled with Holaday’s low offensive ceiling suggest that depth at the position could benefit the Tigers going forward. However, more realistically it creates a logjam in which McCann would have difficulty proving himself.
Baseball America touts McCann as the best defensive catcher in the Tigers system, so if his bat can sustain its production from this season, he could emerge above Holaday and Avila at some point next season. His .339 batting average on balls in play likely inflates his offensive talent, as he lacks speed and posted a BABIP just south of .300 in his first two professional seasons. It does not necessarily just indicate luck though, as McCann may be making better contact in his second crack at Double-A pitching. Given his offensive track record, McCann will have to prove that his production does not just reflect benefiting from a fortuitous half-season sample.
Therefore, his current trade value will suffer some to account for regression. If the Tigers believe he has made legitimate strides with his bat, they may be better off keeping him around. On the other hand, he could fill a need for teams looking for catching depth and a potential emergency call up. With catchers often banged up as the season wears on, McCann could at the very least fill in for a major league team with capable game-calling and defense behind the plate. McCann’s future role in the big leagues will most likely consist of backing up a more offensively gifted starter.
If the Tigers do ship off McCann though, just know that the book on him is certainly not finished yet.