By: Holly Horning & Kurt Snyder
Is James McCann living up to the expectations that he will become the starting catcher next year?
I’m starting to believe so, especially after Wednesday’s game, but he hasn’t played enough this year to generate enough stats for me to feel totally comfortable saying “yes.” What is important is that McCann’s hitting and defensive skills are gradually trending upward. Avila, although he had a promising start to the season, is trending downward and I’m not sure the rigors of the season ahead will be conducive to achieving better numbers.
Avila has approximately double the play time so far. But defensively, what is telling is how both catchers handle potential base stealers. McCann has the better record with half the play time, catching more runners stealing than Avila. Fewer opponents run on McCann because he has a quicker release and more accurate throws to second.
No surprise with the offensive stats. Avila is king of OBP but that’s about it. HIs OBP is negated by stats showing he strikes out on half his at-bats while McCann strikes out only 1/6th of the time. And over the last two weeks, Avila’s batting stats are trending downward, while McCann’s are going up.
The biggest speed bump will be getting Ausmus to give McCann more playing time. While I don’t believe those nepotism urban myths, it’s logical to think that giving less work to your immediate boss’s son has to have some influence on Brad.
Avila, a free agent at the end of the year, has many believing the Tigers won’t make him a qualifying offer, which of course means no draft pick. If McCann continues to trend upwards, there’s a chance Avila may be traded mid-summer.
But given that his father ranks #2 in the organization, consider that this unique relationship may generate an unusual arrangement. Could the Tigers sign Avila to a one-year contract extension later this year? Could Avila become a free agent and then re-sign with the Tigers for less than the assigned qualifying figure?
Stranger things have happened. More playing time for McCann will be the first indicator of his position with the team next year.
Boy, if you could take one day out of the season to determine how things are going with our young, up and coming Tiger catcher, Wednesday would certainly be the day. James McCann had a fairy tale kind of game highlighted by an inside the park home run.
We will have to check the record books to see how many players first career homer was of the “inside the park” variety. Great day for James.
But let’s set this game aside for a minute. When McCann made the team out of the spring with the intention to platoon with Alex Avila, it seemed like a sneak peek into the future. The Tigers are gradually getting younger, and they need to be. And they are more athletic as well and they have needed to be. And as we move through this season, we will find more and more that McCann can be included in the “more athletic” category.
All indications point toward someone who has been very nimble behind the plate, showing an ability to be pretty agile, someone who looks comfortable with handling the pitchers and the position. McCann has shown a strong arm too as he has thrown out his fair share of runners in a short amount of time.
On the other side of the coin, and keeping in mind the small sample size, McCann has shown signs of having the tools of a pretty decent hitter. He has showcased some power even though he hadn’t homered until Wednesday, albeit inside the park. But he has some pop and it’s certainly fair to say that as we move through the season, James will get more opportunities to prove that this could be the changing of the guard.
Alex Avila has shown no signs that he is about to put together a comeback year at the plate, however it is encouraging that, to this point, there haven’t been any concussion issues. None of us really want to see Alex go through any more of that.
But we will keep tabs on McCann. As much as the Tigers have been ridiculed for not having a very deep farm system, James just may silence some of the critiques. With some more playing time, McCann will get the opportunity to continue to interview for next year’s full time catching position. It’s early, and the batting average is still low, but there are certainly signs that we have someone young who possesses the tools of a catcher we can build on for years to come.