Could James McCann Be The Detroit Tigers' Catcher Of The Future?

By Brad Faber
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Tigers‘ Triple-A affiliate, the Toledo Mud Hens, have been having a pretty decent season this year. They are currently sporting a 54-55 record, which is good for third place in their division, and there are a few exciting young ballplayers down there who could have very bright futures with the Tigers’ organization. One of them is catching prospect James McCann.

McCann, who is just 24 years old, is currently slashing .297/.350/.403 with 26 doubles, two home runs, five stolen bases and 40 RBIs. McCann has been known for his defense, however, and this season has been no exception. He has yielded a .991 fielding percentage and thrown out 41 percent of would-be base stealers thus far in 2014. That said, he has certainly begun to draw some attention to his bat as well.

Assuming his minor league numbers are a decent indicator of how he would perform against MLB pitching, Tigers fans would truly appreciate a catcher who has the ability to flirt with a .300 batting average, regardless of the fact that he does not hit for too much power.

Many have seemingly grown tired of the offensive woes of the Tigers’ current catcher, Alex Avila. After a very promising 2011 campaign that saw him make an All-Star team, win a Silver Slugger award, and finish 12th in the AL MVP voting, fans truly thought that they had something special in Avila. After all, who wouldn’t be ecstatic about having a left-handed hitting catcher who went out and showed that he could hit roughly 20 home runs and drive in 80-plus runs?

For whatever reason, however, Avila has not been able to approach his 2011 numbers in the three seasons since. He has not even come close.

Avila batted a rock-solid .295 in 2011, but his batting average dipped to .243 in 2012, and then all the way down to .227 in 2013. His downward spiral has continued in 2014, as he is currently batting a mere .217 and his strikeout rate is an astronomical 33 percent. It should be noted that he has, however, hit seven home runs and driven in 27 runs. Nevertheless, it has hardly been uncommon to hear fans suggesting that the Tigers give backup catcher Bryan Holaday more playing time.

Avila is also, however, sporting a respectable on-base percentage of .324, and many still rave about his defense and game-calling ability. But if he wants to keep his job and continue to hold off McCann, he may need to start doing a little bit more than that.

Avila will not be eligible for free agency until 2016, but if he continues to struggle with the bat, some may begin to wonder if McCann could challenge him for the starting catching job in Spring Training of 2015. Stranger things have happened, but it seems unlikely that the Tigers would send Avila packing. Due to his rapport with the pitching staff, the Tigers will likely want to keep him around in some capacity.

McCann should probably have a chance to crack the Tigers’ 25-man roster next spring, but a more likely scenario might be that he would make the team over Holaday rather than Avila, and therefore split the catching duties with Avila in 2015.

Brad Faber is a Detroit Tigers writer for Follow him on Twitter @Brad_Faber, “Like” him on Facebook, or add him to your network on LinkedIn or Google.

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