McCann should join Avila in a platoon behind the plate for the Tigers

Det CIn this latest look at the Tigers entering the 2015 season, we cover the three available catchers on the squad.

See our preview of the Detroit Outfield or the Detroit Infield. Or read our look at Brad Ausmus and what to expect from the Tigers’ skipper in his second season.

ALEX AVILA. A product of the Tigers’ farm system, Avila is starting his fifth full year as the club’s No. 1 catcher. It started with his 2011 All-Star season, when he finished twelfth in the MVP voting and cranked out a .295/.389/.506 batting line, clouting nineteen homers. He hasn’t come close to any of those levels since, causing many Detroit fans to find him a perennial disappointment. He shouldn’t be thought of that way at all. While declining offensively every year, to the point where he is now a below-average batsman, he has sharpened his defense. In 2014, his caught-stealing percentage rose to a career-high 34 percent. His defensive skills—combined with his ability to draw walks and keep his on-base percentage above .300 even as his batting average has sunk to the low .200s—make him a valuable backstop. If the Tigers didn’t need lefty bats in the lineup so badly, Avila’s offensive fall-off would not be an issue at all. The bigger concern is that, for some reason, he’s a magnet for errant bats and balls. He gets his bell rung by backswings and foul tips so frequently that the multiple concussions he’s suffered have become one of the club’s biggest health issues—especially as, over recent years, the cumulative effects of those blows to the head have rightly gotten more attention, due to closer examinations of what befalls pro football players. Avila’s got a new helmet this year that hopefully will better protect his noggin. He started only 116 games last year, and this year will have James McCann as a new platoon partner and perhaps be able to rest even more, which would be a very good thing.

JAMES McCANN. McCann had a great season at Triple A last year, with a .295/.343/.427 mark—significantly better numbers than his previous seasons in the lower minors. He showed gap power—he hit lots of doubles—rather than reach-the-seats power. He’s ready for the jump to the major leagues, but he is not considered to be that good a hitter, except against left-handed pitching, which will make him a fine platoon partner with Avila. McCann is defensively even better, perhaps much better, than Avila. He threw out around 40 percent of players trying to steal at every level in the minors. McCann and Avila help make the Tigers very strong defensively in the key positions up the middle.

VICTOR MARTINEZ. The Tigers’ third-string, semi-emergency catcher is the best designated hitter in MLB. That’s an enviable position for any club to be in. At age thirty-five, last season the veteran Martinez put up an absolutely outstanding season, the best of his career. His thirty-two homers eclipsed by seven his earlier career high; his on-base percentage of .409 led the league, as did his .974 OPS. His slugging and OPS exceeded his previous career highs by around sixty points each. And of course you heard often the fascinating stat that for a good way into the season he had more homers than strikeouts (he ended up with forty-two whiffs to go with his seventy walks). These are all astounding numbers. It’s doubtful he can repeat them, but who knows? VMart is a craftsman at the plate who is continually perfecting his craft. The recent news that he needed surgery for a torn meniscus in his previously repaired left knee hit the Tigers like a ton of bricks. The good news, however, is that the surgery went well, and he is now supposedly on track to be ready by Opening Day or soon after. Cross all your fingers and toes. VMart is an absolute key to the Detroit offense. Batting behind Miguel Cabrera, he gives opposing pitchers a choice of poisons—their back-to-back presence in the lineup makes the whole batting order much more potent. Watching this man handle the bat from both sides of the plate is one of the absolute joys of being a Tigers fan. In an era of declining offense, Martinez is a throwback to the very best pure hitters of the past. His newest surgery may make the club cautious about using him at catcher again at all, but it’s sure tempting when the Tigers play in National League parks. Better, though, to keep him as a premiere pinch-hitting threat in those games—because Detroit should do everything possible to keep this man coming up to the plate as long as he can hobble into the batter’s box.