This player preview was written by Timm Davis, who can be found at Rain Delay, and posts here as... Rain Delay.
Who knew that when Johnny Estrada when down with injury in 2005 that a fresh faced kid from Athens, Georgia, would arrive from double-A Mississippi and wind up as John Smoltz' personal catcher for the remainder of the 2005 season, then go on to play in three all-star games and win two silver slugger awards. In a very short time Brian McCann has become a member of the elite catching corps in the game of baseball..
I bet you wouldn't be surprised to know that in the last 30 years, Brian McCann leads all Braves catchers with a career OPS+ of 123? The closest to him is (of course) Javy Lopez who clocks in with a 113. Other catchers on the list include Ozzie Virgil (99), Greg Olson (80), Eddie Perez (76) and Bruce Benedict (71) (to qualify a catcher had to have at least 1,000 plate appearances).
Fan Graphs says that Heap is second only to Joe Mauer with a Win Value of 5.8, which puts him on the top of the National League . The Braves know what they have with the 24-year old McCann, this is why they locked him up with a long term deal.
Each year he's been in the majors he eclipses the games played mark he set the previous season. Not to mention he had guys like Todd Pratt and Corky Miller backing him up at times. With a more competent backup this year in David Ross, McCann should get a bit more rest than he is used to (and Bobby would be wise to give him that rest).
There was some concern after the 2007 season, as his numbers dropped across the board and he was striking out more and hitting for less power, but keep in mind that he was injured a good portion, if not all of that season. It seems that when he has problems at the plate he turns more often to his Dad instead of Terry Pendleton for hitting advice.
With a healthy 2008 he showed us more accurately what he can do. He's struck out less, hit for more power and spread the ball around better. According to most projections, he should hit on or near .300 with anywhere between 20-25 jacks, which falls in line last with last season in which he had a career high in batting average (.301) and OPS+ (134).
Perhaps the only bum rap on him has been his less than stellar defense. While not atrocious it could be better. Spring reports said, and it certainly looks as though he's lost some weight coming into camp. That should help with his defense and mobility behind the dish. Even with all of his success in the batter's box, McCann has always been a tireless worker at the defensive part of his game, and that should continue from year to year.
In 2009 we should be able to pencil in a healthy McCann for about 20-25 home runs and a .300 batting average. There's no desparity in his splits either. Last year he hit two points lower against lefties (.299) than right handers (.301). It's nearly identical but reversed with OBP, with an OBP vs RH of .373 and an OBP vs LH of .375. Look for more of the same this year from Heap, WBC or not. The kid is good, and he's going to be good for some time to come.
Thanks to Timm for another good preivew.