The real McCann: Veteran catcher doing it all for White Sox

 
 
Updated 5/23/2019 6:05 PM
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  • Chicago White Sox's James McCann reacts after being struck out by Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco during the fourth inning of a baseball game, Thursday, May 9, 2019, in Cleveland.

    Chicago White Sox's James McCann reacts after being struck out by Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco during the fourth inning of a baseball game, Thursday, May 9, 2019, in Cleveland.

Over the first two months of the season, James McCann has been everything the Chicago White Sox hoped for, and much more.

Offensively, McCann entered Thursday night's game against the Astros hitting .340. That was the highest average for any major-league catcher with 100 or more at-bats.

Defensively, McCann has also been better than expected.

White Sox pitchers had a 5.65 ERA with Welington Castillo behind the plate, and that number dropped to 4.51 with McCann catching. He also threw out 31% (4-for-13) of attempted basestealers.

Now, for the more part.

With so many young players on the Sox's roster, the 28-year-old McCann has been a valuable leader and de facto coach.

Playing for the AL Central Tigers from 2014-18, McCann was very familiar with many of his new teammates on the White Sox.

He approached shortstop Tim Anderson early in spring training.

"I talked to him about 'Hey, when you first came up, this is how we pitched you,'" McCann said. "Last year, we couldn't pitch him that way. This year, I couldn't have pitched him the way we pitched him last year. You just see the strides that guys are making and those are the strides that need to be made for this rebuild to work."

McCann also gave top catching prospect Zack Collins pointers during training camp, and he's had a hand in Lucas Giolito emerging as a front-line starter this season.

"He's a very, very good catcher," Giolito said of McCann. "It's really nice to be able to throw to him. He's really good back there."

McCann's intense preparation has helped him squeeze the most out of Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and the rest of the Sox's developing pitching staff.

He's also made a big adjustment with his swing after hitting a disappointing .220/.267/.314 with Detroit in 2018. McCann was nontendered at the end of the season and he signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract with the White Sox in mid-December.

Spreading his stance and shortening his stroke have helped the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder get back on track.

"I had a down year last year, no secret there," McCann said. "I was able to do a lot of soul searching over the offseason and the thing I got back to is who I was and what got me to the big leagues. Stop trying to be like another guy because I've learned from a guy like J.D. Martinez or I've learned from a guy like Miggy (Miguel Cabrera).

"I was blessed to be able to play with those guys, but I'm not them. I can't expect myself to do the things that they do so honestly, it was just getting back to who I was as a hitter, getting back to what got me here in the first place. That's really all I can contribute it to, staying within myself and doing what James McCann can do, not trying to be another guy."

The Sox are thrilled with the real McCann, and the catcher is likely to be back in 2020, as he is salary arbitration eligible for one more year.

"Part of the reason he was targeted is for what he brings in terms of game preparation, how he works with the young starters, what he means in the clubhouse," White Sox general manager Rick Hann said. "We've seen personally what he can bring offensively in terms of some of the damage he's done with Detroit. He's been everything we had hoped for in terms of in the clubhouse and from a defensive standpoint, and quite frankly more than we had even hoped for offensively. He's been a great acquisition for us."

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