Fall 2021 SS Magazine

21 MLB players to watch in 2021: New York Mets catcher James McCann

Through the month of March, leading up to MLB Opening Day on April 1,
Sports Spectrum is highlighting 21 Christ-following players to watch in 2021.

Having missed the playoffs the past four seasons, the New York Mets went into the 2020-21 offseason eager to make a splash. They may have missed out on the big fish — reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer, who chose the Dodgers — but they certainly made enough upgrades to be an NL East contender in 2021.

One of the key additions was James McCann, who became one of the top catchers on the free-agent market after a strong 2020.

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He was an All-Star with the Chicago White Sox in 2019, hitting .316 in the first half of the season. But he slumped in the second half, and finished 2019 hitting .273 with 18 HRs and 60 RBIs. Chicago then brought in catcher Yasmani Grandal, who was also an All-Star in 2019 (with the Brewers), and Grandal appeared in 46 games compared to McCann’s 31 in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.

But McCann’s batting average (.289), on-base percentage (.360) and slugging percentage (.536) were all career highs, thus increasing his value in the free-agent market. He also significantly improved defensively in 2020. McCann ranked 64th out of 64 in runs saved due to extra strikes with -15 in 2019 (according to Baseball Savant), but last season he improved to sixth overall with +2. According to Sports Illustrated baseball insider Tom Verducci, “It’s been a stunning turnaround” for McCann, who became “one of the most sought-after free agents on the market.”

The Mets were in pursuit right out of the gate, and McCann was one of the first free agents to ink a deal. The 30-year-old signed a four-year contract with New York in December.

It wasn’t a decision made on a whim by McCann. The process brought his thoughts back to his last big baseball decision of choosing a college. He was a California boy who didn’t know where Arkansas was on a map, and he couldn’t put his reasoning into words, but he just knew he was supposed to go to the University of Arkansas. That decision led him to pro baseball, and to him meeting his future wife, Jessica.

Like when he was deciding on a college, McCann’s prayer this past offseason for free agency was “that God would make my answer simple and easy, and He’d leave no doubts in my mind about where I was supposed to be … that God would lead us to where He wanted us to be. And the Mets were the answer,” he said recently on the Sports Spectrum Podcast.

McCann also saw God at work when he was let go by Detroit (which drafted him in the second round of the 2011 MLB Draft and groomed him for three years in the minors leading up to his MLB debut on Sept. 1, 2014) and signed with the White Sox in December 2018.

In January of 2018, he and Jessica were able to take home their twin boys, Christian and Kane, who were born 10 weeks early and had to spend seven weeks in the NICU. Prior to the babies arriving, the McCanns sold their offseason house in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and bought a house in Nashville.

That whirlwind offseason may have contributed to James’ lackluster 2018 season — “my worst year offensively,” he said on the podcast. It led to his release from the Tigers, and he admits to being hurt by them not offering him a contract after four full seasons in the majors. But he was soon able to see God’s provision.

“Had I not had that season, I probably would have stayed in Detroit, and who knows if I’m an All-Star for Chicago in 2019. So it was just one of those things where you trust God. You trust that it’s Jeremiah 29:11 — He knows the plans He has for you, and it’s for you to prosper. I’m blessed that it happened so quickly,” McCann said.

He’s now with the Mets on a multi-year, multi-million-dollar contract, and tasked with directing one of the best pitching staffs in the majors. McCann is in the best situation of his career, which he knows God is in control of.

“The best thing I’ve learned over all the years is baseball is what I do, it’s not who I am. Finding that identity of who you are is the key. That identity is that I’m a child of God. I’m a follower of Jesus, and because of my identity in Jesus, I’m different,” McCann says. “I don’t need to ride the highs. I don’t need to ride the lows. I can be the same day in and day out because of where I place identity, and that’s in Jesus.”

James McCann’s career and incredible birth story are highlighted in the Spring 2021 edition of Sports Spectrum Magazine.

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