He’s a New York Yankee now, but before he joined the greatest franchise in baseball, he was a slugging, mammoth-sized catcher toiling in Atlanta. Well known around the league for his prodigious power and his violent (but beautiful) swing, he became expendable once fellow catcher/outfielder and former janitor Evan Gattis surfaced as a power threat and a really remarkable story. While Gattis appears to be a decent option behind the plate, the Atlanta Braves were forced to make a decision that worked quite handily for the Yanks.
A former second round pick out of high school in the 2002 draft, McCann has raised eyebrows multiple times with his power. In his two full minor league seasons (Single A Rome and High A+ Myrtle Beach), he exceeded double digit homers and thirty doubles each year, while earning a spot on Baseball America’s top prospect list at number 44. He prompted a call-up the following season, and played admirably for a rookie catcher, seeing time in 59 games on a division winning team. In the offseason, the Braves traded away their starting backstop, former All-Star Johnny Estrada, to the Arizona Diamondbacks, giving McCann a huge vote of confidence. And he delivered, launching 24 big flies and driving in 93 runs while also batting .333. He clinched an All-Star selection and Silver Slugger award, solidifying himself as an elite catcher for the next few seasons.
In the following years, McCann was selected for seven All-Star games, earned five Silver Slugger awards, and has belted at least 20 homers in each season except for two. Additionally, he has never accumulated more than 98 strikeouts in a season, and has improved upon his Range Factor per Game as a catcher consistently throughout his Major League tenure, to a very respectable 8.29. While this might not mean much to those outside the statistical field, it’s quite an accomplishment.
So what can the Yankees expect of McCann? At the very least, there will be power. Twenty home runs is almost a given. Almost. McCann largest issue is his inability to stay healthy. He has missed 135 regular season games in the last three years, partly due to surgery on a torn labrum. Regardless, the power will stay. However, his average is… average and his glove work is mediocre compared to other major league catchers, such as McCann’s predecessor, Chris Stewart. Last year’s Yankee backstop was the equivalent of a foil in baseball; Stewart had a good glove with no pop while McCann possesses great strength and so-so fielding. Nevertheless, McCann is a huge upgrade over Stewart in the lineup.
But, McCann has also played in a warm environment his entire career. He’s not used to the New York cold on a consistent basis. Will he adjust? Probably. Yet McCann’s play drops significantly in October baseball; he is a career .209 hitter who has never won a playoff series.
Brian McCann is a veteran. He’ll turn 30 next month. He knows baseball, and knows how to rake. Plug him in behind a Carlos Beltran or healthy Derek Jeter, and he will drive in runs. Even if he performs poorly behind the plate, it’s not a huge problem. He could DH every fifth day, providing playing time for Francisco Cervelli and giving a veteran outfielder (Beltran, Alfonso Soriano, Ichiro) a day off. McCann could be the next Mike Napoli of the AL East! Sure, he carries risk, but the Yanks will have a great addition to their lineup if McCann can hit and field eighty percent of the time.