White Sox

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

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

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.”

The learning process continues for Dylan Cease, who just had 'my best start of the year'

The learning process continues for Dylan Cease, who just had 'my best start of the year'

Dylan Cease's ERA is still north of 5.75.

He's not a finished product, no matter how much anyone wants him to be one.

"It would be ideal for me — and my ability to sleep — and everyone’s mood if these guys came up and dominated immediately," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said Thursday. "In reality there is a little bit of a learning process that goes on."

All these results, the ones that have contributed to that ugly ERA and some generally ugly outings over Cease's first couple months in the major leagues, are learning moments. Not convinced on the effectiveness of those learning moments? Just look to Lucas Giolito, who took all the struggles he had in 2018 and turned them into an All-Star 2019 season in which he's blossomed into the ace of the staff.

But, despite the hype, these guys aren't coming up finished products.

Cease, though, has flashed the potential that has earned him all that hype, and in no outing did he flash more of it than he did in Friday night's start against the visiting Texas Rangers.

Following the theme that seems to be developing in Cease starts, he had a pretty lousy inning early in the game, in this case the very first inning, in which he served up a three-run homer. The theme continues, though, that Cease usually uses all that composure and maturity everyone's always raving about to settle down and pitch a decent game. Friday night, he was more than decent. After the first inning, Cease retired the next 11 batters he faced and allowed just two hits (both singles) over five scoreless innings.

Cease, following in the tradition of perfectionist pitchers everywhere, hasn't been happy with previous outings that followed a similar script. This time, he was pleased. Maybe something to do with the career-best nine strikeouts.

"To me, that was just a huge confidence boost right there. Now I just need to not let those big innings happen," Cease said. "That's definitely my best start of the year today, besides that first inning."

"You had a couple of things going on," manager Rick Renteria said. "He had a rough first, we scored some runs, he holds them. We scored some more runs, he holds them. He kept doing that throughout. It's a big push. You see, there's a confidence-builder in that particular outing today. He should be happy how he ended up redirecting himself and righting the ship."

Cease's ability to do just that, right the ship, might give him a bit of a head start on his developmental process at the major league level. After all, Giolito and James McCann talk frequently about that issue plaguing Giolito in 2018. When things went wrong early, Giolito couldn't get back on track. He's been able to this year, contributing to his success. If Cease can do that from the day he hits the majors, that's a plus.

And if that's a tool Cease already has in his tool box, then the next step would be eliminating those early troubles. As good as Cease has looked at times, those numbers aren't lying. He's given up 32 earned runs in his 50 big league innings. He's given up 11 home runs in nine starts and has yet to have an outing without allowing a homer. Walks have been a sporadic issue: He walked just one batter in each of his last two starts but walked five in the outing prior and has three starts this year with at least four walks.

Again, learning process.

"His stuff is — it's electric stuff," Renteria said. "Sometimes you wonder, 'How can they hit him?' or 'How can they do this?' It's just (that they are) big league hitters. You leave something out over the plate or something they can manage, and they're going to do what they can do with it.

"As long as he continues to execute and use that stuff that he has, he's going to be OK."

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Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: It's Elvis night on the South Side

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: It's Elvis night on the South Side

Scott Podsednik and David DeJesus join Leila Rahimi on Baseball Night in Chicago to discuss all things baseball.

They talk Yoan Moncada's comeback, Eloy Jiménez's injury, the Cubs' continuing bullpen struggles and more.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: