McCann graduated from Dos Pueblos High School in 2008, after hitting .442-3-25 as a senior.
In 2008, James was drafted by the White Sox in the 31st round. But didn't sign, preferring to accept his baseball scholarship to the University of Arkansas, where he majored in kinesiology.
In 2010, McCann spent the summer playing with the Cotuit Kettleers of the Cape Cod League.
In 2011, McCann hit .306 with six home runs in his junior season with the Razorbacks—and also stole 11 bases in 17 attempts. On the defensive side, McCann had a .992 fielding percentage and threw out 20 of 38 runners trying to steal against him.
In 2012, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated McCann as the 9th-best prospect in the Tigers' organization. They had him at #11 in the winters before both 2013 and 2014 spring training. In the offseason before 2015 spring camps opened, they had James as 9th-best Tigers' prospect.
- September 6, 2014: Part of the work that earned James McCann his reputation for strong game management as a Tigers catching prospect was a notebook he kept on Triple-A hitters at Toledo and a mental database he kept on pitchers. He was a long way off the notes at Comerica Park, but he didn't exactly need a lot of research.
McCann's first Major League start had him catching former Cy Young winner David Price and hitting against Giants All-Star Madison Bumgarner. No notes were required.
"Words can't describe it," McCann said afterwards. "Seems like just yesterday I was in college watching [Price] pitch on TV, and today I'm out there catching him. It was an awesome experience."
For most of the crowd at Comerica Park, it was the first real glimpse of the former Tigers top pick projected by many as Detroit's future behind the plate. For McCann, it was the first go-around in the process of preparing for, catching and calling a Major League game.
"He did a great job, man," said Tigers slugger and still occasional catcher Victor Martinez. "I thought he did great, especially for the kind of game we played today. From here on, every pitch is important, every at-bat. I think for him being a rookie, first time starting with a pitcher like David, I think he did a great job, handled himself great behind the plate."
"They're a very aggressive team," McCann said. "We started moving the ball in and out and keeping the ball down in the zone and letting them make quick outs."
It was one game, and it didn't include a stolen-base attempt, but it lived up to the scouting report on McCann.
"McCann's got a reputation as being very good behind the plate and taking a lot of pride in calling a game," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said.
McCann went hitless, but he wasn't overmatched. He lined out to left field and flied out to right in his first two at-bats against Bumgarner, both early in the count, before hitting a sixth-inning line drive that second baseman Joe Panik robbed with a diving catch.
"Man, off the bat I thought I had my first knock," McCann said. "But it's the game."
March 15, 2015: Randy Johnson, you’re not alone. Tigers rookie James McCann pulverized a bird with a foul ball during a Spring Training game.
The incident occurred in the first inning of a game against the Atlanta Braves, and video of the incident began to circulate right away. It was reported the bird was perched atop the protective netting before it was drilled. It reportedly fell into a fan’s lap below.
“(The umpire) said he didn’t know what was funnier ... seeing the bird get hit or the woman’s reaction when it landed in her lap,” McCann told MLive.com.
McCann enjoyed his first homecoming to Southern California late in May 2015. James just no longer calls California his home.
It was an unexpected journey that brought McCann, California born and raised, to Arkansas for college ball. He grew up in Santa Barbara as a Dodgers and Angels fan, and followed the careers of Dodgers catchers Paul Lo Duca and Russell Martin. But as McCann explains, he is at home in Fayetteville, Arkansas. "I have a house there," he said. "My wife and I live there."
It was never something McCann planned. But then, McCann said he was never a beach or surfer type growing up in Southern California. He was into baseball, and his talent made him a recruiting target. When the Arkansas Razorbacks came calling, McCann said he had to be convinced.
"When they called me, I had no idea where they were on the map, much less that they had a baseball team," McCann said. "I started looking into it and went on a recruiting visit, and I fell in love with it. The facilities are second to none. I live there now because that's where I work out. They average 10,000 fans a game, and you don't get that on the West Coast. It was a no-brainer. It was one of the easiest hard decisions I ever made."
It was decisive enough for McCann that he made Arkansas home even after the Tigers selected him in the 2011 draft.
McCann does not have to check the traffic report in Fayetteville before planning on driving anywhere. By contrast, he said, his parents and many of his friends have at least a two-hour drive from Santa Barbara to see him play when in L.A. If there's traffic, he said, it could easily take three hours of driving.
"I like the pace of life better there, too," McCann said. "I'm not into the high traffic, having to plan an hour and a half to go 20 miles."
McCann has been there long enough, he said, that many people don't know he's from these parts. The only obvious sign when he is in California is the small but vocal cheering section of family and friends. (Beck - mlb.com - 5/29/15)
In 2015, McCann was voted the Tigers Rookie of the Year by the Detroit Sports Broadcasters Association. McCann is just the second catcher to win Tigers Rookie of the Year, which has been awarded since 1969. Matt Nokes was the other, winning it in 1987.
Carla McCann knew her son was special even before he first donned a catcher's mask. He beat the odds long before he made it to the Major Leagues. James McCann was given a 1-in-4 chance of surviving birth due to a tear in the amniotic sac early in pregnancy. Even if he survived, she was told by doctors, he would most likely have developmental challenges. It was pain all over again for Jim and Carla McCann, who had lost their first child months earlier to a stillbirth.
"Being people of faith, we decided we were going to see it through," she said. "It was a leap of faith, but it really wasn't more than what people do every day -- putting one foot in front of the other." For the next six months, Carla took as few steps as possible, staying in bed, watching what she ate, praying at night. Living in Southern California, she watched enough of the 1989-90 Lakers that she jokes that she actually named her son after James Worthy. She watched a lot of Dodgers baseball, too, led by an All-Star catcher named Mike Scioscia.
"She jokes sometimes and says that's why I like baseball so much," McCann said. "That's what she watched when she had me." Never could she have imagined then that her son would be a big league backstop himself one day. But to James, she played a major role in his baseball career from its roots.
"As involved as you could get," McCann said. "She was my T-ball coach when I was 4 years old. As I got older, she was the mom that drove to every single tournament, every single game. I don't think she missed a practice until I was in high school. She made a lot of sacrifices to be there, on top of everything else, so that I could do what I loved.
"I definitely think that plays into how special it is for her to see me play in the big leagues now. On top of the birth and doctors saying it wasn't looking good, to how much time and effort she put into me as a kid and my career, she's one of the most proud fans out there." (Beck - MLB.com - 5/4/16)
McCann's mother's pride is for more than how he carries himself on the baseball field. It's also for the work ethic he has shown to get there. "I think what makes us proud are the choices he makes in his life," she said, "just the way he goes about his business. And he's always been that way. That makes me proud."
McCann was a straight-A student his entire academic career, except for a B in freshman biology in college. He was an All-American catcher at the University of Arkansas who ended up being the Tigers' top draft pick in 2011. Three years later, he made his Major League debut for the Tigers in Cleveland.
When McCann signs an autograph, he keeps his birth in mind. He signs with his favorite scripture verse, Mark 10:27. The verse ends with, "All things are possible with God."
The one choice Carla had to accept from her son was how a California kid became such a southerner, complete with the accent. "I knew I was in trouble," she said, "the first time he called and said, 'Hey mama, how are you?'" (Beck - MLB.com - 5/4/16)
Jan 19, 2017: The University of Michigan already has its quarterback for next season -- junior Wilton Speight led the Wolverines to the Orange Bowl in 2016 -- but that won't stop McCann from following his (offseason) dreams.
The Tigers stopped by the campus on Friday afternoon, Day 2 of their 2017 Winter Caravan. While he was there, McCann took some snaps to show coach Jim Harbaugh his stuff, since he has one more year of eligibility left. Hey, if his arm behind the plate translates to the pocket, he might be worth a second look. He's certainly fired up over the opportunity ... as long as he is back on the diamond come April. (B Cosman - MLB.com - Jan 20, 2017)
Jan 17, 2018: A little more than a month ago, James McCann and his wife, Jessica, welcomed twin boys into the world -- Christian and Kane. With Spring Training reporting dates still a few weeks away, McCann is spending his offseason as any new father should ... by getting as much up-close-and-personal time with his newborns as possible. (A Garro - MLB.com Jan 18, 2018)
James didn't go into the 2017 offseason looking to bulk up. He was working out every morning, going to the hospital every day to see his wife and newborn twins, and grabbing food when he could in between stops.
"I worked out at a new place this offseason, different workout routine," said McCann, who moved with his wife to Nashville shortly after last season ended. "And I ate a lot of [restaurant] salads. That was literally our go-to meal on the way to the hospital."
In that sense, he was like a lot of new dads who have to balance career and home, except that his career involves squatting behind the plate, throwing to bases and swinging a bat nearly every day.
"I tried to eat as clean as I could," he said. "With the amount of time we spent in the hospital, it was tough at times. But I also got after it pretty good in the weight room in the mornings before I headed to the hospital."
His weight-room work was arguably a stress release for him. He knew he was likely going to be a bigger presence in the revamped Tigers lineup. He did not intend to take that literally. "I honestly didn't weigh myself until the middle of January," he said. "And when I got on a scale for the first time, I thought it was broken. I'd put on 25 pounds."
McCann was listed as 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds in last year's media guide. He's listed at 225 pounds in this year's version. At first glance, a good part of that appears to be muscle.
By now, the photos of McCann holding his twin sons, one in each arm, have circulated widely online. And the babies are relatively small, having been born premature. But McCann also has noticeably bigger, more muscular arms.
"I look in the mirror and I'm like, 'I don't look like I've put on bad weight,'" McCann said. "My goal going into the 2017 offseason was to feel good. I did push it in the weight room, pushing weight a little bit more than I had in the past. I guess the results were there."
"The big thing [in Spring Training 2018] is forcing my body to get ready for a 9-inning game," McCann said. "That's what I've been able to do, and I feel healthy. I feel great." (Beck - mlb.com - 3/19/18)
James and Matthew Boyd began preparing for their 2018 Memorial Day start together a few days ahead of time. Their prep work had very little to do with the Angels on the lineup card they were expecting.
When Boyd knew he was on track to start the Memorial Day game, he wanted it to be about more than pitching at Comerica Park on a holiday afternoon. So he talked last week with Jordan Field, director of the Detroit Tigers Foundation, about how to honor those for whom the holiday is.
"This day's about honoring those who have served their country and lost their life defending this country," Boyd said after the 9-3 win, "defending our freedom so we can have liberties like playing baseball this day, worshipping our religions freely, and being in an awesome country. I just didn't want that to be lost by the wayside. They gave the ultimate sacrifice for us. The least we can do is honor them."
Field got in touch with TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, and received names of local servicemembers who lost their lives over the past year. "We got eight names of fallen soldiers from the area," McCann said.
Boyd and McCann took four names each, and wrote them on the special cleats they wore for the game. "I feel very blessed to be able to play a game for a living, and [for] the freedoms that we have here," McCann said. "The freedom to do that, and just being able to honor the fallen, the people that paid the ultimate sacrifice. One day doesn't seem like enough." (Beck - mlb.com - 5/28/18)
Dec 3, 2018: James was a September callup when he made his Major League debut in 2014. He was the third catcher for a Tigers team battling for its fourth consecutive American League Central title, trying to hold off the up-and-coming Royals. With so much on the line, the Tigers gave McCann his second Major League start in Kansas City with just over a week left in the season.
His task that night was catching Justin Verlander, a challenge for even a veteran backstop. While Verlander pitched 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball that night, McCann had two hits and scored two of Detroit's 10 runs. The win loomed larger when the Tigers eventually won the division by a one-game margin. McCann made two starts that September, catching Verlander and another former AL Cy Young Award winner, David Price.
"Being able to come up and have big league Spring Training with that group of guys and see how those veterans handled themselves and how those guys dealt with failure and success, all the things I was able to take from that experience, obviously it's helped shape me into who I am today and leading into my experiences," McCann, 28, said.
If the non-tender marks the end of McCann's Tigers tenure, his final game wearing the Old English D was the season finale in Milwaukee. He was the veteran, catching Spencer Turnbull's third Major League start. The only player in that game with more time in a Tigers uniform was Nicholas Castellanos. The roster, and the team's direction, had flipped around him. McCann didn't say he saw the move coming, but the possibility was clear.
"Honestly, you try not to think about it. You try to control what you can control," McCann said. "But human nature is you try to play things out in your head and figure out what your future looks like. You know you're not part of the full rebuild plans. That's fine. That's part of the business. You know you're not likely to play for the same team your entire career. Whether it happened now or a year from now or two, I value the time I had in Detroit."
Neither McCann nor Alex Wilson, a Tiger since 2015, heard from the team leading up to the transaction. Both received a call from general manager Al Avila, who explained why they were being non-tendered, wishing them luck and letting them know they'd be welcome back if they don't get a satisfactory offer in free agency.
McCann and Wilson pretty much knew the reasons. The Tigers are heading into their second full season of a multiyear rebuild. Wilson is a year away from free agency, McCann two, and the Tigers have prospects in waiting for both positions when the rebuild is complete. With McCann and Wilson having made $2.375 million and $1.925 million, respectively, this past season, the Tigers parted ways now. McCann, meanwhile, moves on from the only organization he has known since becoming a pro.
"The organization will always be special for me for two big reasons," McCann said. "First was 2011 when they drafted me. I was a second-round pick and the Tigers' top pick, so it's special to me in the sense that the Detroit organization was the only organization that didn't pass on me at least once. The second is getting that first opportunity, the opportunity to play at the Major League level for parts of five seasons."
Maybe tougher for McCann is moving on from a community that became a second home to him. While he and his family have spent offseasons in Arkansas, Dallas and now Nashville, Tenn. -- where his twin boys are doing great after last winter's medical scare -- Michigan has been an in-season constant.
"That's one of the hardest parts about the business of baseball: When you are around somewhere for so long, you plant yourself in a community," McCann said. "We made friends we're going to remember. The connections that I made in the community, whether it was hospital visits or Miracle League games, that is one of the harder things. You've created those relationships. Now, I don't want to say they're gone, but they're going to be less often."
McCann doesn't know where he'll land, but he's hoping to turn this into a positive. "Moving forward, I'm extremely thankful and grateful or the time I had in Detroit," he said, "and I'm excited to see what the future holds." (J Beck - MLB.com - Dec 3, 2018)
June 2011: James signed with the Tigers, via scout Chris Wimmer, for a bonus of $577,900 after they drafted him in the second round (76th pick overall), out of the University of Arkansas.
Jan 11, 2018: The Tigers signed catcher James McCann to a one-year, $2.375 million contract avoiding arbitration.
Nov 30, 2018: James chose free agency.
- Dec 14, 2018: The White Sox reached an agreement with former American League Central foe James McCann on a one-year, $2.5 million contract,
|Birth City:||Santa Barbara, CA|
|Draft:||Tigers #2 - 2011 - Out of Univ. of Arkansas|
"McCann may not hit enough to be a big league regular. His strength is his defense behind the plate."
That is all he heard when he first signed a pro contract. But he makes good contact. He is a tough out. And he has improved and was still learning at Triple-A Toledo with the Mud Hens in 2014.
James has learned to leverage the ball better and tweaked his setup, his offense improved. He’s a good fastball hitter with quick hands, though his barrel angle leaves length to his swing without ideal bat path. He’s an aggressive hitter who has trouble with the soft stuff, though he doesn’t swing and miss excessively.
James' swing can get long, with a flat swing path, and he has trouble catching up to good velocity.
He doesn't swing and miss excessively, but he has a bat wrap that creates length to his stroke.
McCann projects as a .240 to .250 hitter who can take advantage of mistakes and produce some gap power. And he should get around 8-12 home runs per season.
- James credits work he did with Arkansas Razorbacks hitting coach Todd Butler before 2013 spring training.
“In the offseason we worked on making my swing a little more compact,” McCann said during the 2013 campaign with Erie (EL-Tigers). “I used to have a big leg kick that we minimized. That has helped me see the ball better and use my lower half so I’m not on my front side too much.”
James kept a daily journal on how pitchers approach him during his minor league career. He writes down the pitches he sees each game and keeps track of how that changes from team to team, month to month.
April 29, 2015: Pretty much everyone dreams of hitting their first home run in the Majors. They picture the sound of the bat as it launches the ball out toward the stratosphere, the roar of the crowd as they realize just how far it travelled, the despair on the face of the pitcher who will become a footnote in the biography of your life.
Detroit catcher James McCann hit his first career home run in the sixth inning of a Tigers-Twins game, but it probably didn't go like he had always imagined it. Yeah -- it was an inside-the-park home run.
One of the biggest tasks of James's job as a catcher is to assemble scouting reports on opposing hitters going into each series. It has little to do with his individual performance, but the prep work gives him the background knowledge to call games for his pitchers.
So when he and Tigers coaches wanted to figure out how to fix him as a hitter, one of the ideas they tried was to put together the same scouting report on himself, in his format, complete with heat maps and hot and cold zones.
The report detailed the elevated pitches he was chasing and missing, and the percentage of swings-and-misses. It showed how to get him out, and how his weaknesses had changed since he broke into the Majors and became a regular two years ago. Since then he seems to have made the adjustments.
Since the 2017 MLB All-Star break, McCann has more than twice as many hits than strikeouts (12). "This is the hitter I kind of envisioned in 2015," manager Brad Ausmus said. "This is kind of the hitter I thought he'd be."
And this is the hitter he had been on the way up the Tigers' farm system, and as a rookie two years ago. How he got away from that seems to do with a hunt for power, and the longer swing that went with it. The adjustment has raised McCann's average 55 points in a month, and it also has given the Tigers a catcher they can play close to every day.
"I think he was coming to, or at, a crossroads," Ausmus said. "Because it had been over a year that we'd kind of been watching the same swing, with really mediocre at best results. He just wasn't hitting enough. Now he is. He looks good. He really does. He's done a good job of righting the ship with help from [hitting coaches Lloyd McClendon and Leon Durham]." (Beck - mlb.com - 8/14/17)
- As of the start of the 2019 season, McCann's career Major League stats were: .240 batting average, 40 home run and 368 hits, with 177 RBI in 1,536 at-bats.
James has a tremendous arm behind the plate. And he has a quick release. He is a very solid catcher who moves well back there. Strong defense is his trademark.
He does a nice job of framing pitches.
- McCann calls a very good game and works very well with his pitching staff. His leadership skills are impressive.
He is a quiet receiver. He has improved his blocking, framing and footwork.
In 2012 and 2013, he was said to be the best defensive catcher in the Tigers' organization.
"Each day you can control things like how you block pitches, receive pitches, throw out base-stealers and control a staff,” McCann said. “You can have slumps at the plate, but that stuff doesn’t come and go.”
McCann has a strong arm.
In 2012, James threw out 43 percent of basestealers (in the Florida State and Eastern Leagues, combined).
In 2013, he threw out 37 percent of runners attempting to steal in the Eastern League.
In 2015, McCann nabbed 42 percent of Triple-A base-thieves.
- September 2015: McCann has played in 102 career big-league games at catcher, and made errors in none of them. According to research by Elias Sports Bureau, that’s a modern (since 1900) Major League record for the number of games played behind the plate to start a career without an error.
The previous record was the Cleveland Indians’ Frankie Pytlak at 93 games in 1932-34.
- James is a below-average runner. In fact, he's a 20 runner on the 20-80 scouting scale. So he is strictly station-to-station.
April 12-May3,, 2016: James went on the 15-Day DL with a right ankle sprain.
- May 26-June 9, 2017: James was on the DL with a laceration of his left hand.