With James McCann on All-Star stage, his value to White Sox continues to grow

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CLEVELAND — James McCann’s rapid ascent to depth-chart filler to All-Star catcher has been incredible. His ascent from depth-chart filler to the future behind the plate for the rebuilding White Sox has been far more important.

McCann was signed in the offseason, after the Detroit Tigers ended his five-year tenure in the Motor City by non-tendering him, to accomplish numerous goals for the White Sox during this 2019 season: to provide a veteran backup to Welington Castillo, to work with the team’s young-and-getting-younger pitching staff, to play good defense and to act as a bridge, of sorts, to highly rated catching prospect Zack Collins.

Instead, he’s become the team’s No. 1 catcher, provided a middle-of-the-order bat, helped Lucas Giolito turn into an ace and a Cy Young candidate, represented the team at the All-Star Game and perhaps filled the job of catcher of the future.

He’s been good.

But in addition to all those things that fans and onlookers have noticed on the field, the things that have made him look like a totally different player from the one the White Sox faced over the previous five seasons, McCann has continued being him behind the scenes. And that’s had a big-time impact on these White Sox, an impact that is looking to be really important as this team moves toward the potential opening of its contention window in 2020.

“We played against each other for a few years when he was with the Tigers, and I knew the kind of person that he was,” Jose Abreu said Monday through team interpreter Billy Russo. “I met him before, you hear things about him, and you have some reference of other guys. This year, having the opportunity to play with him, you understand and you realize that all those good things were true.

“And I think that’s something that you appreciate because that’s a very good influence in the clubhouse, not just for the young guys but for everybody, that makes us better. And with the production he’s having this year, it’s a perfect match. You feel very, very good because we have a good player but also, and most important, an outstanding person.”

The gushing that his White Sox teammates have done over him so far in 2019 seems to be nothing new for McCann. He’s earned a reputation as an extremely committed, extremely hard-working player who prepares in such a way that it makes the game infinitely easier for his pitchers.

While the production at the plate might be new for McCann, the way he goes about his business on a daily business isn’t new at all.

“This guy, you’re on the flights going to a different city, everybody else is enjoying themselves, having a good time, listening to music, and Mac’s over there in his binder doing his homework with his scouting reports. It’s never ending with him,” said Tigers pitcher Shane Greene, who was McCann’s teammate for years in Michigan. “He’s the hardest worker I’ve ever played with.

“He carries himself like he should’ve been here (at the All-Star Game) three years ago. It’s not in a cocky way, it’s just in the confidence and the swagger. But not an arrogant swagger, an ‘I work harder than everybody else’ type of swagger, an ‘I’m more prepared than you’ type of swagger.

“He’s probably the hardest worker I’ve ever seen.”

Certainly the White Sox have noticed, and thankfully for them, it will be easy to bring the 29-year-old McCann back for the 2020 season, when he’s expected to be working with not just Giolito and the newly arrived Dylan Cease but also Michael Kopech, who’s currently recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Considering the kind of influence McCann has been on Giolito – and with what he’s done swinging the bat this season – the White Sox might want to think about incorporating him into their plans past the 2020 season, too.

“I’d be lying if I said we expected this out of him offensively, because that wasn’t the package we thought we were necessarily getting,” general manager Rick Hahn said last week, “but this type of season is one that our scouts said was potentially in there. It’s really nice to see.

“There’s no doubt that having a veteran catcher, a stabilizing force behind the plate, someone who works well with the pitchers, much less produces offensively from that position, plays an important role on a championship-caliber club. Having someone fill that role going forward has got a great deal of appeal to us.”

Collins is a part of the big league team right now, though with Castillo starting a rehab assignment and working his way back to the active roster, perhaps things could change. The White Sox brought Collins up in part to learn from McCann, and that has most definitely taken place.

But of more interest is where the catching situation stands in the long term. McCann has not only worked his way into the conversation but looks, at the moment, as the no-brainer option to be the team’s catcher of the future. The defensive questions surrounding Collins’ game might have been enough to move him to another position anyway, though the White Sox are adamant he can stick at catcher.

McCann, though, is part of what’s made the White Sox future look as bright as it does during a positive-filled first half of the season. He’s seeing those positives, too, and glad to be in the position he’s in.

“It’s a blessing,” he said. “That was one of the things that was so intriguing when the White Sox came calling was I knew the young talent they had, I knew the maturation that had been going on with guys like Tim Anderson and Moncada and obviously a guy like Abreu.

“It’s a bright future on the South Side, and being a part of that, it’s pretty sweet.”

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