Hens catcher James McCann tries to catch a foul ball. McCann has developed a reputation for his superior defensive skills.
A strapping 210-pound man known around his clubhouse as Captain America has peculiar penmanship.
“Some people say I write like a girl,” Mud Hens catcher James McCann said.
His tidiness comes in handy when it’s time to study. The 2011 second-round pick of the Tigers is making an impression with his meticulous preparation, chronicling the pitch sequence of every at-bat for which he’s behind the plate.
Need to know how the Hens retired a specific batter in the second inning of a game last month? The details are in McCann’s notebook, a treasure trove of knowledge he’s procured in three-plus seasons of pro ball. Continuing an exercise he started at Arkansas, McCann grabs writing instruments between innings and archives every pitch.
He’ll reference his notes later in the game, later in the season, and for the remainder of his playing career, to create a road map against a lineup.
His pitchers reap the benefits of McCann’s work during pregame skull sessions.
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen that,” said right hander Robbie Ray, now with the Tigers.
McCann, in his first season at Triple-A, is labeled as a defensive catcher, one whose bat might never catch up to the rest of his game.
Ranked Detroit’s 12th-best prospect heading into the season, McCann’s most direct path to Comerica Park, where the home team’s lineup is flush with big boppers, is showing quality work behind the plate. In 23 games, he has thrown out about 39 percent of base stealers (14 of 36), ranking third in the International League.
“I think the guy has a chance to hit,” Hens manager Larry Parish said, noting Hall of Fame catcher Carlton Fisk was not initially thought to be proficient with a bat. “I see improvement all the time. He’s still learning as a hitter. I’m seeing it getting better already. If he can keep adding on it, hopefully by the end of the year we’ve got a big-league catcher.”
Of McCann’s study habits, Parrish said, “You don’t see that much at any age, much less a first-year guy at Triple-A.”
The Tigers chose McCann with their first pick in 2011 at 76th overall. He was chosen in the 31st round three years earlier by the Chicago White Sox but the California native did not sign and played three years at Arkansas.
McCann’s .286 batting average with five doubles and 14 RBIs suggests the soon-to-be 24-year-old is more than just a reliable backstop. He spent all of 2013 at AA Erie, batting .277 with eight home runs and 54 RBIs in 441 official at-bats.
Though he keeps a separate notebook to help with pitchers he faces, McCann isn’t concerned with his offensive totals, saying “when you’re a defensive catcher, any type of hitting is a bonus.”
“I pride my game on my defense,” he said. “I can control the way I catch, throw, block, receive. That’s something I can do day in and day out regardless of how I’m swinging the bat. The best hitters in baseball only get three hits out of every 10 at bats, and that’s a hall of famer. Knowing the ups and downs of the offensive side, there can’t be those ups and downs on the defensive side.”
AT THE PLATE: James McCann
■ Position: Catcher.
■ Ht./Wt.: 6-2/210.
■ Hometown: Santa Barbara, Calif.
■ Age: 23.
■ Family: Engaged to Jessica; wedding planned for November.
■ Nickname: Mac; Captain America.
■ Favorite way to spend time away from the field: Hunting and fishing.
■ Baseball player you admired growing up: Mike Matheny.
■ Favorite sport other than baseball: Football.
■ Favorite music: Country.
■ Favorite meal: Ribeye with mashed potatoes and some type of vegetable.
■ Favorite beverage: Sweet tea.
■ Favorite movie: Gladiator.
■ Favorite TV show: Big Bang Theory.
■ Do you have a Twitter account? No.
■ Person you most admire: My mom [Carla]. The things she went through to raise me and to allow me to play this game and the miles she’s driven across this country, just everything she’s done as a mother.
■ Top sports moment: Playing in the College World Series my freshman year [at Arkansas]. We took third.
■ Baseball superstitions: After batting practice I have to shower before putting on my uniform.
■ Something nobody knows about you: I like superhero stuff. Superhero movies and comic stuff.