The Detroit Tigers have spent much of the off-season shopping their starting catcher of the last five years. While Alex Avila is still on the team, and as time passes it looks more likely he will be for 2015, there is no guarantee he will be the starting catcher come Opening Day so says manager Brad Ausmus.
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Ausmus spoke at the MLB Winter Meetings in San Diego on Tuesday afternoon and stated that he will hold a good, old fashioned position competition for catcher.
The early candidates are the incumbent and, surprisingly, not last year’s backup Bryan Holaday. Minor league James McCann will likely be higher on the depth chart than Holaday when pitchers and catcher report to Lakeland in mid-February.
Says the skipper:
"It’s certainly open at this point. I think clearly Alex has shown that he has the ability to be an everyday type catcher. He works well with pitchers and pitchers trust him. But I also think that a guy like McCann has a very bright future. I really like the way he catches. So, the decision who’s No. 1 and who’s No. 2 won’t be made until spring training, or even if there is a No. 1 or No. 2. Maybe there’s just kind of a split."
It is interesting that Holday’s name is not mentioned (though Ausmus did praise him for doing an “excellent job” as backup catcher) but its good that McCann is being mentioned. Tigers’ fans were beside themselves when, after a very good year in Toledo, McCann was brought up for September call-ups but rarely used. With Avila and Holaday both struggling at the plate, it would have been nice to see McCann in the lineup more. He appeared in nine games, starting just once.
McCann bats right handed and would give the Tigers a much needed alternative to the struggling left handed bat of Avila (hitting just .215 with a .619 OPS against lefties in his career). Also, Alex is a free agent after this coming season so it would give McCann some valuable on the job training before his predecessor likely departs.
McCann reached the highest level of his baseball career by playing with the Mud Hens through 2014, batting .295 with a .770 OPS. An encouraging sign was that McCann increased his productivity a bit while climbing the ladder in the minor leagues.