SARASOTA—No one knows how many games Adley Rutschman will catch this season for the Orioles. It will likely be well over 100, maybe as many as 110 or even more. For those games that Rutschman doesn’t catch the Orioles are happy to have James McCann on hand.
The Orioles acquired the 32-year-old from the New York Mets on December 21st. New York will pay $19 million of the $24 million remaining on McCann’s contract over the next two seasons.
McCann has quickly adapted to his fourth major league team. As a second-round pick of the Detroit Tigers in 2011, he spent five seasons with Detroit, two more with the Chicago White Sox, where he was an American League All-Star in 2019, and the past two with the Mets.
“I don’t want to see it’s an easy transition, but the guys here are good people first and foremost,” McCann said. “Obviously, talent is off the charts. All the stuff the publications put out there is true. What you don’t see is the quality of human beings in the clubhouse.”
He’s quickly become a favorite of starting pitchers, particularly, Kyle Gibson, who faced him regularly in the American League Central when Gibson was with the Minnesota Twins.
“He’s seen me a lot, so I think he has a pretty good idea of how I’ve set up hitters in the past, how I’ve worked against righties and lefties,” Gibson said.
McCann was 6-for-29 (.207) against Gibson.
“It gives him a little bit of an advantage when he catches me for the first time,” Gibson said.
“There’s a little bit of things I’ve done differently the last couple of years, but for the most part, going back to his days with the Tigers and the White Sox, he’s got a pretty good idea of how my stuff is working and how it plays best in the zone and out of the zone. For him, that learning curve has probably been a little bit faster.”
Gibson and McCann are the two oldest players on the Orioles roster, and McCann is impressed by the maturity of the young club.
“Guys take their jobs seriously,” he said. “They show up for work. They show up to get better every day, not just go through the motions and say they’ve done it.
“So from that standpoint, it’s a good clubhouse when the guy next to you is working hard, you’re working hard, too. You push each other. That makes it even more enjoyable. The quality of people, the things, the side conversations that you hear that aren’t about baseball. It’s good things happening. Those are good people.”
McCann needs to learn a new pitching staff, and he’s using Orioles’ analytics to help.
“With the data, you know guys before you catch them,” he said. “You know what their strengths are. You know what their weaknesses are, and then just talking to the pitching coach and the pitcher himself obviously, know what they’re working on, learning key words that may help them accomplish something they need to accomplish.
“I can know all that before a game with them and then once we get in a game, learn each other on the fly.”
Cole Irvin has enjoyed working with both McCann and Rutschman.
“He’s going to be great for Adley to learn from,” Irvin said. “I really think McCann’s process is just as simple as Adley’s. Get to know your guys. He’s really easy to throw to, has a good glove. Doesn’t overcomplicate it. Both of them really communicate well, and that’s the biggest thing behind their success behind the plate is being open-minded and keeping the plan simple.”
McCann needs the six weeks of spring training to bond with his starters.
“I’m still learning them as pitchers, learning them as individuals,” McCann said. “It’s still on me to figure them out. I always say the pitcher and catcher getting on the same page it’s not 50-50, it’s more the catcher getting on the pitcher’s page and over time, the catcher can influence the pitcher.”
During spring training, McCann, his wife Jessica and his twin sons, five-year-old Christian and Kane are often around the ballpark, and he treasures his time with them. The boys are active children, but it was a difficult road for them.
“When my wife was pregnant, it was a high-risk pregnancy, and they were born 10 weeks premature at Vanderbilt [University Hospital in Nashville],” McCann said.
“We spent 7 weeks in the [Neonatal Intensive Care Unit] there, basically the whole offseason [of 2017-2018].
“That’s where we developed a heart for the NICU and for the staff, the nurses and doctors and understanding what other people are going through being there. The NICU is a place that until you’ve experienced it firsthand, you really don’t know all that goes on there. The boys are healthy now. You’d never know that they were premature and the challenges they faced. It’s definitely a place we focus our efforts on giving back.”
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