15. Can Brian McCann keep up his good work?

The series continues as we look at the major issues facing the Braves this season.

The Braves are fortunate to have one of the best catchers in the major leagues. Brian McCann has been the primary catcher for four seasons now, and he's been an All-Star in each of those years.

McCann has won three straight Silver Slugger Awards. He will turn 26 years old in February, and he arguably is on his way to becoming the greatest Atlanta Braves' catcher of all-time.

Despite missing a couple of weeks with his eye problem, McCann still had outstanding numbers. McCann hit .281 with 21 home runs and 94 RBI in 488 at bats. McCann was hitting less than .200 before he got his eyes checked, and the new glasses worked.

McCann has established himself as a top-notch run producer. He's now averaging 91.5 RBI per year in his first four full seasons. His career batting average is .293.

The Braves still need to do a better job of resting McCann so he does not run out of gas later in the season. His numbers do drop off, as it does probably for most catchers, as the season goes along. So even though it's tough to take him out of the lineup, perhaps another day off or two will have McCann fresher for the stretch drive.

Defensively, McCann threw out a higher percentage of base runners this season, nailing 24% of would-be thieves. It was his best percentage of his career. McCann did have 12 errors this season, a stat that can improve next year.

It's somewhat appropriate to compare McCann's production to that of Javy Lopez, who spent 10 years as the Atlanta starting catcher. Lopez averaged 21.3 home runs and 69 RBI in his ten seasons as the main backstop. So far, McCann has averaged 21.5 home runs and 91.5 RBI in his first four full seasons.

So McCann is just a better and more dangerous run producer. McCann may never hit 34 or 43 home runs, such as Lopez did. But there's little doubt after four years the threat that McCann has become in the Atlanta lineup.

It's very easy to also wonder if McCann could be compared to a young Joe Torre-type player. Torre, who was Atlanta's starting catcher in the first three years of the franchise, was a nine-time All-Star, a batting champion (1971), and a NL MVP (1971). Torre finished with 252 home runs, 1185 RBI, and a .297 career batting average – numbers that McCann could easily finish with by the time his career is over.

McCann is under contract for three more seasons, with an option for 2013. So he's one of the cornerstones of this franchise. With Chipper Jones probably retiring before the end of McCann's deal, Brian has a chance to truly take over as the captain of this team.

But in many ways, McCann is already the captain. He's well-respected in the clubhouse. Even though he's still young, he now has the experience that has allowed him to carry the swagger of a veteran player. That has resulted in great respect among his teammates.

McCann just has to stay healthy. That's the key to any catcher. If he's able to do that, the Braves are going to have a building block for the next decade.

The Braves have one of the best catchers in the game of baseball. McCann and Minnesota's Joe Mauer are the best in their field. And with both being still very young, the best is probably yet to come.


Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Braves Show Talk Show. Shanks writes a weekly baseball column for The Macon Telegraph and is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/billshanks.


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