This is not the cleanup hitter the White Sox or their fans expected when the season began.
James McCann, who started the year as the team's second catcher, if not the "backup" catcher in the strictest definition, has spent the last four games as the No. 4 hitter in the White Sox lineup. Historically, that's a spot that goes to one of the biggest run producers on the squad. While there's plenty of sound reasoning to the argument that it doesn't really matter where someone hits in the order — you'll hear more of it from McCann himself in a bit — it's still surprising to see McCann as Rick Renteria's everyday cleanup hitter right now.
After all, McCann entered his first year on the South Side after five seasons with the division-rival Detroit Tigers, with whom he slashed .240/.288/.366. In 13 games with the White Sox, he's got a .333/.382/.490 slash line. So a little different.
"I don't know that I feel like a cleanup hitter or a leadoff hitter or anything," McCann said ahead of Monday's game against the Baltimore Orioles. "When it's my turn to hit, I try to have a quality at-bat each and every time. If that means moving a runner, if that means driving a runner in or if that means getting on base. I think when guys get caught up in where they're hitting in the lineup they can get kind of mixed up and try to do too much or whatever it may be. Honestly, once you're the second time through the order, you're not really a cleanup hitter or a leadoff hitter anymore.
"Staying within myself, taking what's given to me, not trying to do too much," he said about his success at the plate this season. "I look back in my past, when things weren't going good, I was trying to do too much. When you try and do too much it ends up snowballing, a slump ends up being, instead of 10 to 15 at-bats, it ends up 20 or 30 at-bats. But if you stay within yourself and take what's given to you, those highs and those lows will stay more in the middle."
In the middle is where McCann's batting right now. It's a small sample size, of course, but he's done well batting behind the red-hot Jose Abreu. In the three games prior to Monday's, McCann went 5-for-13 out of the cleanup spot, a .385 average to go along with a .429 on-base percentage. That's pretty good.
It's also a stark contrast to the guy who spent the bulk of the team's first 22 games batting fourth, Yonder Alonso. The offseason acquisition has yet to really get going in 2019, the owner of an ugly .185 batting average and a .313 on-base percentage. He has hit four homers, and only three guys on the team (Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson and Abreu) have hit more. But this isn't exactly what was expected from Alonso when the White Sox traded for him in December.
McCann, who was acquired at practically the same time as Alonso, has been a pleasant surprise from an offensive standpoint. The team expected to get what he's been able to provide as a catcher working with a young pitching staff. But a cleanup hitter? That likely wasn't part of the deal.
But if he keeps hitting like this, the White Sox will be perfectly fine with this unexpected development.
"He’s been really, really good," Renteria said Monday. "Came into camp working very, very hard. You can see he’s quite a pro. He takes everything he does seriously. He has an idea of what he wants to do, he works very well with the staff, all the coaches, putting himself in terms of where he wants to be offensively.
"He’s had a good run here for us and we’re able to take advantage of that."Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the White Sox easily on your device.