18. How good is Brian McCann?

Brian McCann is one of the Braves best players, but how much better can he get?

Well, we all know he's pretty darn good. Brian McCann turns 25 in February and he already has 70 home runs and 486 hits in his three-plus-year big league career. McCann rebounded from his .270 batting average in 2007 with a .301 mark in 2008, along with 23 home runs and 87 runs batted in.

With three straight All Star appearances and two Silver Slugger Awards McCann has established himself as one of the premier players at his positions. He's far from perfect, but there is little doubt McCann has become one heck of a player.

McCann wore down a bit as the season progressed. He hit only three home runs in the last two months of the season. His batting average stayed consistent, but there was little doubt 'Heep' was getting tired at the end.

McCann himself admits his weight might have been an issue. He has dedicated himself to a strict diet and workout program and has already lost twenty-two pounds this offseason. McCann believes his physical conditioning is the key for him to have a long and productive career.

The improved conditioning will also help his defense, which he admits needs improvement. McCann is outstanding at calling games, and his pitchers love throwing to him. But he threw out only 22% of attempted baserunners in 2008, which is right near his career average. McCann wants to improve that next season.

With McCann's long-term contract already in place, the Braves don't have to worry about his financial status. They know exactly what he'll be earning in the next five seasons.

The website baseball-reference.com had an interesting comparison to McCann's career thus far. They compared McCann to former Braves catcher and manager Joe Torre, who had 76 homers and 328 RBI through the age of 24. But Torre did that in 166 more games than McCann's played in his career. Of course, if McCann can come close to the 2342 hits and 252 home runs Torre compiled in his career he'll be very happy.

And the way he's going, why not? McCann is still so young that it's easy to wonder if he can match those numbers. With his dedication to his physical condition and improving his defense, McCann's best days could easily be ahead of him instead of just sitting on the first three full seasons as a gauge for what's possible.

McCann will undoubtedly be helped next season by an improved lineup around him. The decrease in home runs after July 31st coincides with the departure of Mark Teixeira, and there's little doubt that created less protection for McCann in the lineup. If a big right-handed bat is acquired this winter, that will likely help McCann improve on the numbers he posted this past season.

The Braves have a premium player at a premium position, and Brian McCann is simply a player this team will build around for the next five to seven seasons.

Bill Shanks hosts The Braves Show Talk Show, The Atlanta Baseball Show on 680 the Fan in Atlanta, and The Bill Shanks Show on SportsRadio 105.5 the Fan in Macon. He is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.

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