Roundtable: Should James McCann Come Up?

The Tigers offense has been struggling, and the club could certainly use a jolt, especially at a position where offense has been limited this season. Given that, should the Tigers bring up catcher James McCann from Toledo, and if so, when?

Paul Wezner, Executive Editor

The argument to bring up James McCann is an obvious - the Tigers have gotten limited production out of their catchers this season (combined .677 OPS), and given the struggles of both Bryan Holaday and Alex Avila against left-handed pitching, McCann could provide additional assistance there. In addition, the Tigers know what they have (and don't have) in Holaday - a reliable backup catcher who won't hurt you, but probably won't help you much. McCann has the ability to be more than that, providing an upgrade defensively and potentially at the plate. The biggest thing to me in McCann's favor are his splits against lefties; .367/.418/.505. He won't keep that up against Major League pitching, but Avila has a .550 OPS against LHP's, and Holaday is even worse at .419. If McCann can come in and provide some extra firepower against left-handed starting pitchers, it's certainly worth it to call him up now and give him that shot. Plus, if he can hit, you'll want to keep him around for a potential run in October, and in that scenario, you want him having as much exposure to the big league staff as possible, not just a few games in September. McCann's time should be now.

Mark Anderson, Director of Scouting

I understand people are frustrated with the performance -- or lack thereof -- from Alex Avila and Bryan Holaday. I truly do understand that. However, bringing up James McCann to play every few days is not going to change the lack of production from the position. It's just not. McCann would likely be an upgrade over Bryan Holaday down the stretch as the club's backup catcher, and if he succeeds, it is possible he could handle those same duties in the post-season. Is that really what the club should be worried about? I would much rather they focus on finding additional patches for the bullpen or some inexpensive offensive firepower, and moves like that are going to require 40-man roster space. Adding James McCann to the 40-man roster now -- instead of waiting until after the season when he must be added to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, puts a cramp on the roster decisions the Tigers must make down the stretch. Bottom line, given his defensive value and his work with one of the league's best pitching staffs, the Tigers are not about to displace Alex Avila as the primary backstop as they push toward the playoffs. And if the club is not willing to do that, bringing up James McCann to "upgrade" on your existing backup catcher isn't really accomplishing much. It strikes me as wasted effort and window dressing for the actual challenges the team is facing.

James Chipman, Senior Lakeland Correspondent

James McCann is on an absolute tear right now in Triple-A Toledo. The 24-year-old backstop is batting .310 with 31 doubles and a .794 OPS this season. Furthermore, McCann is batting .385 with a .965 OPS since July 1st--a span of 109 at-bats. During that time, and hell, honestly all season, production from the catcher spot for the big league club has been almost non-existent. Backup catcher Bryan Holaday is batting just .115 with a .315 OPS over limited playing time since the calendar flipped to July. And Alex Avila, who's getting the bulk of the playing time, continues to struggle at the plate--especially against southpaws. How bad exactly? Avila is battling The Mendoza Line, batting .212 this season against lefties, and just .161 against them since the All-Star Break. Despite a strong defensive profile coming out of college, Holaday has been rather average behind the plate in his time with the Tigers. Seen primarily as a bat first prospect, McCann would likely provide fringy to below-average defense. His bat however, would likely mitigate the difference. In short: Is James McCann the savior to the Tigers inconsistent offense? Of course not. Is it worth the proverbial attempt to catch lighting in a bottle? Absolutely. I'd call up McCann immediately to shake things up a bit.

Neil Weinberg, Senior Analyst

I would absolutely call up James McCann. It's not a do or die moment for the Tigers because we're only talking about a small number of plate appearances between now and September 1 that might otherwise go to Bryan Holaday, but we've probably seen enough to know McCann is the better option. Even if you expect 50 plate appearances against left-handed pitching between now and then at the catcher's position, the absolute ceiling for the difference between the two catchers is something like half of a win. That doesn't mean they shouldn't do it, it just means that there isn't a ton of urgency to the matter because the gap is likely much smaller. McCann is having a very nice season in Toledo and is hitting lefties especially well to the tune of a .418 wOBA in 120 PA. In 64 trips against lefties for Holaday this year, his wOBA is .194. Certainly those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt given the sample size, but they support the overall view in the scouting community that McCann is the superior hitter with his .362 wOBA this season to Holaday's .264. Additionally, McCann is a good defender so there's nothing lost in that department even if you have a favorable view of Holaday's work behind the plate. There's no hurry given that Avila should still take most of the reps at catcher, but if you're going to sit him against most lefties, McCann is probably the better option and allowing him to adjust to big league life in August is probably better than asking him to do it in October.

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