Bill Shanks previews the 2006 Atlanta Braves.
The star is rising
It's not that Brian Michael McCann can't be a spokesperson. He can and probably will. But this kid is a baseball player, and we're watching him develop into a star right before our eyes.
There are some players that are just fun to watch play, players that you know are going to be consistent and steady every single game. Even earlier in April, when McCann was struggling a bit, he was contributing with his defense. That's just what he does.
The slump didn't last long. Remember, this kid has a built-in hitting coach only a phone call away. His father, Howie McCann, is a former college head coach at Marshall and a fantastic hitting instructor. "Just drop your hands a bit," his father told him, and presto! The slump was over.
McCann is now hitting .337. It seems like he gets a base hit every day. In fact, he's hit safely in 20 of the 29 games he's played in this season. And in his last eleven games, he's hitting .415.
The hitting stroke is just solid. You see him go the other way on a consistent basis, almost an oddity for a 22-year old player. You see him work the count and make the pitcher work a bit. You see a concentration unmatched on this team.
I've said over the last few years that McCann would become another Jason Varitek-type player. The main difference, obviously, is that Varitek is a switch-hitter. But you see so many parallels between the two. Offensively, both are solid hitters with power that can produce 20-30 home runs. But the real similarities are with the defense.
When you watch a Red Sox game, you know that Varitek is completely in charge of the game. And the more McCann starts in the big leagues, you get that same feeling. The kid is only twenty-two years old, but the pitchers seem completely confident in his ability to catch and call the game. And base runners are quickly learning that running on McCann is not exactly like running on Mike Piazza. McCann has thrown out 42% of attempted base stealers this season.
Can you imagine how good this kid is going to be in a few years? Yes, he's pretty darn good right now, but just think of how much better he's going to be after he has even more experience. You get the feeling it's his team now when the Braves are in the field, but just wait when he's twenty-five or so. Then he'll be even more in charge.
It's simply amazing that McCann is only twenty-two years old. You just don't see this very much. This is a kid that should be the Braves' catcher for the next decade, and to think that our pitchers, the core of this team, will be in his hands is quite comforting. His offense is terrific, but to have a leader on the field like this kid is something most teams just don't have.
Yeah, he's got a chance to be the All-Star this year. Right now, it's hard to imagine anyone else having a better start to the season. But count me as one of the many fans of this team that just loves watching this kid play on a daily basis. As a fan, you have a confidence in him when he comes to the plate, or when he goes and talks with his pitcher. You just know that he knows what he's doing.
He goes about his business quietly - a baby-faced kid of twenty-two that not only loves playing baseball, but loves donning that Braves' uniform every single day. And what a pleasure it is for us to watch him become a star right before our eyes.
Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. Email Bill at email@example.com.
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