Atlanta’s incredible 14-year reign atop the National League East ended last year with a thud, but at least one memorable development emerged from the disappointing season — the evolution of Brian McCann as one of the premier catchers in the NL.
McCann, who was born in Athens, Ga., and grew up a Braves fan, saw limited action during his rookie campaign of 2005, playing in just 59 games. But last season as a 22-year-old, he exploded onto the scene, leading the Braves in batting average (.333) and slugging percentage (.572), while finishing third on the team in home runs (24) and RBIs (93).
He was the only catcher in the majors to hit over .300 with at least 20 home runs and his 58 extra-base hits were the third-most by a catcher in Atlanta history. For his efforts, he was named to the All-Star team and picked up a Silver Slugger award.
McCann joined the Braves as part of Atlanta’s much-ballyhooed rookie class of 2005, which also featured the debut of more-celebrated teammate Jeff Francoeur. But after gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated during his rookie season, Francoeur struggled under the weight of expectations in 2006, while McCann quietly thrived.
Playing out of the spotlight seems to suit McCann best, as most of the attention given the Braves is directed at stars Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones and Francoeur.
However, McCann may not have the luxury of being a man behind the scenes anymore, especially after recently signing a six-year, $26.8 million contract that will keep him locked up with the Braves through 2012.
McCann has not let any contract negotiations or the increased media exposure distract him from his play this season. McCann is second on the team with a .345 batting average, to go along with two home runs, three doubles and eight RBIs.
His statistical prowess, combined with the dearth of power hitters at the catcher position, make McCann a must-have for any fantasy baseball owner, behind Minnesota’s Joe Mauer and Cleveland’s Victor Martinez.
At 23, it’s a good bet that he’ll remain among the top three catchers for years to come, meaning he will be the face of the Braves’ future, even though he will be hidden behind the plate.