TOLEDO, Ohio — Detroit Tigers catching prospect James McCann is getting close to completing his minor league apprenticeship.
McCann, a second-round pick three years ago out of the University of Arkansas, is batting .309 with 46 RBI for Toledo. And he’s been solid defensively, too. McCann calls a good game and is second in the International League with 35 thrown out attempting to steal and a .402 success rate in that area.
How close is he to the majors?
"That’s a double-edge sword question," said Mud Hens manager Larry Parrish, who is consulted by Detroit on call-ups. "He could probably go up there and do the job right now. But do you want to have the finished product?"
What needs finishing is his right-handed power stroke. While McCann is hitting average and is fourth in the International League with 30 doubles, he has only three homers in 337 at-bats and could cut down a bit on those 71 strikeouts.
"His swing seems to be getting better as the season goes on," said Parrish. "But for him, it’s a matter of knowing where the head of the bat is and not inside-outing his swing. He should be firing the bat out more instead, and catching the ball out front more. He was over-swinging in an attempt to do that. But he’s strong enough to hit them out if he makes contact earlier."
McCann, 24, could be among Detroit’s September call-ups, and should become a major consideration next season. Though, right-handed hitting Bryan Holaday has become a good complement for Tigers starting catcher Alex Avila, a left-handed hitter.
McCann knows he still has work to do, though.
"Understanding my swing is the biggest thing," McCann said. "But I’ve grown mentally in making adjustments from one at-bat to the next, and not carrying my last at-bat to the next one. I think quality at-bats are the most important thing.
"I’ve learned a lot, and every year I have taken a step ahead. But I’m not there yet, and every day I try to do something to become better so I can reach my goal."
He envisioned catching his former Razorbacks battery mate, Drew Smyly, until Smyly was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in the recent three-team deal that enabled Detroit to acquire 2012 Cy Young Award winner David Price.
"When Drew and I talked," said McCann, "I told him, ‘I guess I won’t be able to catch you in the big leagues any time soon.’ And before the Tigers drafted me, Drew told me, ‘You are going to be a Tiger if we have the opportunity to draft you.’ I didn’t believe him, but he was right."
McCann became a catcher as a junior at Dos Pueblos High in Goleta, Calif., and said he most admired current St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny and former Boston Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek at the position.
"I liked to watch Matheny and Varitek because of the way they ran a pitching staff," McCann said. "They were leaders — no doubt about it. It’s important to know your pitchers so they can trust you, along with everyone else on the field. It’s important to be that leader, that general."
Toledo reliever Daniel Schlereth, a former Tiger, has been impressed with McCann in that regard.
"I think he’s pretty damned good," said Schlereth. "He can hit, and he calls a real good game. I haven’t shaken him off at all. The biggest thing for a pitcher is to be on the same page with your catcher, and you get there quick with James."
McCann relishes working behind the plate.
"Defense is the biggest thing at my position," McCann said, "and that’s one of the biggest strengths for me. You are in control behind the plate, and I love the cat-and-mouse game. I enjoy the mental side of it. With some pitchers, you have to let them have it. Some, you have to baby them through it.
He could probably go up there and do the job right now. But do you want to have the finished product?
"But I love to get on the same page as my pitchers, and understand their strengths and weaknesses."
And when he makes it, he will be the second McCann catching in the majors, joining perennial All-Star Brian McCann of the New York Yankees.
"I get asked about that on a regular basis," McCann said. "But we’re no relation."
He comes to the ballpark early, plays hard, signs autographs long after the final out, stays late to lift weights and loves working at his game. McCann can see his goal of the majors in the not-too-distant future.
"I’m blessed to play this game," McCann said, "and I give it all I can every day. How many little boys dream this dream and ever get this close to it?"