Chicago White Sox Catcher James McCann will play in his first all-star game on Tuesday night. McCann is the most unlikely player to be picked for this year’s all-star game and has had one of the biggest career turnarounds in recent seasons.
Before this season McCann had spent his whole career with the Detroit Tigers organisation, including parts of 5 seasons in the major leagues. During his time with the Tigers McCann was one of the worst offensive catchers in baseball, he had a 76 WRC+ between 2015 and 2018. Subsequently, McCann was not tendered a contract by the Tigers after the 2018 season. Given the Tigers current situation and the fact that McCann would have only been earning around two million dollars in 2019, the Tigers cannot have seen much potential in James McCann.
At this point you can understand why McCann making the all-star game is so miraculous. Just nine months ago it seemed like he may never play in the major leagues ever again, after being rejected by one of the worst teams in baseball.
The White Sox signed McCann to a one year contract after he was non-tendered by the Tigers. At the time he was viewed as an affordable stop gap until a more accomplished catcher was available. Nobody could have expected the offensive value that James McCann has produced. With a 133 WRC+ in the first half McCann has arguably been the best offensive catcher in the American League whilst being solidly defensively.
The sort of improvement from James McCann is relatively rare for experienced hitters. Although we have seen a couple of hitters make a late breakthrough in the last couple of years. The most recent of these breakthroughs was last year when the Dodgers’ Max Muncy became an offensive force after spending most of his career in the minor leagues. With most of these sudden improvements the player in question as showed offensive promise at some point in their professional career and then made swing adjustments. In contrast to this, McCann has never been good at the plate, his OPS of .873 this year is on track to comfortably be the best of his professional career.
The fact that McCann has never produced like this at any level of the minor leagues just adds to his story but it also suggests that this production may not be sustainable, particularly when his peripheral numbers have not changed much. Whether the past few months are merely an elongated hot streak or a sign of things to come remains to be seen. James McCann has given us one of the best stories of this year’s all-star break and we should enjoy it, whatever comes next for him.