Most elite sluggers have that signature moment that everybody else remembers - perhaps a ball that was hit so hard that people are still talking about it months later. For Georgia Tech junior catcher Kyle McCann, that moment came on Feb. 22 against UCLA, when he smashed a walk-off home run in the 11th inning.
"He hit it high up on our batter's eye in center field, and as soon as he hit it you're like, 'OK, game's over. Home run,'" recalled Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall. "That one for me stood out."
Of course, McCann has had quite a few standout moments this spring. He started the season on an incredible power binge, launching 10 home runs in Georgia Tech's first 14 games, including seven homers in the first nine days of March. That stretch was capped by a monstrous go-ahead homer in the 10th inning at Miami on March 9.
His long ball production has flattened out a bit since, as pitchers have worked him very carefully, but he's still hitting a robust .346/.507/.779 with 12 homers and 37 RBIs through 104 at-bats. McCann has always shown a patient approach - he drew 70 walks over his first two seasons, though he also struck out 96 times. This year his plate discipline has reached another level, as he has 32 walks and just 32 strikeouts.
"He's done a good job with that, and the walks kind of attest to that," Hall said. "He's always had a really good eye, I think the last couple of years he has led our team in walks. And his patience is getting tested now because he's not seeing as many pitches to hit, but he's still been willing to take a walk and let Tristin English or Baron Radcliffe or Colin [Hall] clean up and get some RBIs behind him. He's always had that knack for just seeing the ball really well. It is getting tested because people kind of fear him when he steps in there. You get off to a hot start like that with the home runs, you wouldn't be human if you weren't thinking about trying to hit some more. But he's stayed within himself very well."
McCann has come a long way as a hitter in his three years at Georgia Tech. At 6-foot-2, 217 pounds, he's an imposing slugger whose lefthanded power has always been a factor - he mashed nine homers in 121 at-bats as a freshman, even though he hit just .198. McCann took a big step forward as a sophomore, hitting .300/.423/.600 with 15 long balls, but he's on pace to sail past that homer total as a junior, and his OPS is up from 1.023 to 1.286. His raw power has stood out since his high school days, but he continues to get better at putting it to use.
"He was probably 16, and just watching him play, that was what stood out more than anything - obviously a big strong kid, lefthanded bat, had power," Hall said. "He had a good arm, probably wasn't the best catcher at that time, but was a guy you could dream on. Probably the biggest hurdle to overcome was, at that time we were sitting there with [future first-round picks] Joey Bart and Tyler Stephenson signed to come here. To Kyle's credit and his dad's credit, they were willing to wait his turn. He wanted to come to Georgia Tech, he felt like that was the best place for him to develop as a player, and he was willing to wait for Joey to get out of here to get his chance to catch."
McCann's father Joe played pro ball himself, as a pitcher, and his younger brother Cooper is a freshman pitcher at Mercer, though he's injured this spring. Coming from a baseball family, McCann stands out for his baseball IQ, and he showed impressive aptitude to learn behind the plate.
McCann spent his first two years working hard to improve as a catcher while working with then-Georgia Tech assistant Mike Nickeas, a former big league backstop. Stephenson signed out of high school as the No. 11 overall pick, but Bart went to school and became a star, getting drafted No. 2 overall last June. Meanwhile McCann played first base and waited his turn to catch every day.
Now he's getting that chance, and he's improving rapidly as a defender.
"He's much more flexible, and that's something I see him spend a lot of time daily on, loosening his hips up and making sure he's moving right," Hall said. "He has arm strength, but I think his accuracy and throwing the ball on line sometimes, I wouldn't say it's been lacking but I know that's one area he's working on improving, throwing the ball on the money, on the bag. His blocking and receiving keep getting better. It's a work in progress, he knows that. But it's something he's spending a lot of time trying to get better at."
He certainly has the right presence for the position.
"Even when he was kind of the backup to Joey, I think guys enjoyed throwing to him. He's very well liked by his teammates, he's just an easy guy to like," Hall said. "It's kind of funny, James Ramsey just came in here in January and joined the staff, but he has nicknamed McCann 'the low-key genius.' He's got a good baseball IQ, but he's not just gonna throw something on somebody, it'll be more on the low-key, comforting side."
McCann will certainly be drafted as a catcher, and his stock is on the rise - he has a real chance to be a Day One pick. And as Hall pointed out, even if a pro club does eventually decide to move him out from behind the plate, his big power bat will play at first base. That's a nice insurance policy.
"He reminds me a lot of [Mark] Teixeira, even though Teixeira was a switch-hitter," Hall said, referencing the former Georgia Tech great and long-time big leaguer. "But that loft, the ball goes almost as high as it goes far. So I would kind of align him more with that type of hitter. I'd say the area he's improved on the most, and this has been fun to watch, they'll still shift on him, everybody thinks he's a pull hitter, but he does have some hits to left field, and he's really gotten good at driving balls to left center. Early in his career it was, 'I'm gonna pull it to my pull side, and if i get it in the air it has a chance to be a home run.' Now he's doing a much better job driving balls to the left-center gap.
"I think he's right in there with the best power hitters I've coached."
And considering the long line of sluggers that have passed through Georgia Tech, that's quite a statement.
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