Futures reps Lennerton, McCann proud of progress
'Old guy' defying odds; catcher benefiting from new approach
NEW YORK -- James McCann and Jordan Lennerton went into the season as Tigers prospects with unclear futures. Three months later, they went to the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game.
This is where Nick Castellanos won MVP honors and Bruce Rondon threw 102 mph last year at Kansas City's Kauffman Stadium. McCann and Lennerton can't compare to that and shouldn't be expected to. They shouldn't be dismissed, either. The routes they took here back that up.
While baseball's premier showcase event brought top Minor League prospects to Citi Field on Sunday, there stood Lennerton, starting at first base for the World Team. The native Canadian was the oldest player on either roster by a full year and seven years older than some of his teammates. He didn't care. That's a scout's job.
"I've been [labeled] an old guy, but I'm happy to be that old guy," the 27-year-old Lennerton said, "because I get to stand here with these young guys. I'm proud to be in the position that I'm in. It's a great motivator for me to know that the people that oversee everything with the Tigers, they see me as that guy that they can put in events like this. They see me as a guy who will move forward."
Getting him forward is a little more complicated than that. Lennerton is a sixth-year pro first baseman in an organization that has Prince Fielder under contract through 2020. With Fielder's presence and Matt Tuiasosopo getting a chance, Lennerton wasn't invited to Spring Training with the big club. His best shot at the big leagues might well be in another uniform.
He can't worry about that. All he can worry about is hitting. While most of the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens struggled to do that for the first month and a half of the season, Lennerton was one of the best hitters in the league.
His teammates came around at the plate, none bigger than Castellanos. Lennerton, meanwhile, kept on hitting, entering the break with a .296 average, 13 home runs and 43 RBIs.
In the process, he kept on defying his label of an organizational guy.
"My ceiling was Double-A as of three years ago. I wasn't going to make it out of Double-A," Lennerton said. "That shows you what the writers know, no offense to you guys. It takes more than watching it from the outside to understand what a baseball player is. Baseball is an intelligent game. It's a thinking man's game. It takes a lot more than how far you can hit a baseball. You can't measure the drive and determination of a baseball player by watching them take batting practice."
He used to worry about his numbers, he said, about trying to put up stats and make impressions. That might be his biggest difference this year. Instead of setting statistical goals, he said, he set milestones.
"I worked my way up through the lower levels, and it was more about numbers for me then," he said. "Now I'm big on progression, staying positive. I feel once I got off my own case, that's when I started to put some numbers together. I basically had to get out of my own way, stay out of my head and just go out and play."
He more than held his own Sunday. In his first at-bat, he battled Mariners top prospect Taijuan Walker for nine pitches, fouling off 96 mph fastballs and sharp breaking balls alike, before shrugging off two fastballs out of the zone for a walk.
Two innings later, Lennerton earned the World Team its first lead with a sacrifice fly off highly regarded Red Sox hurler Anthony Ranaudo. Lennerton waited for a fastball he could get into the air and lofted a fly ball deep enough to left to score his International League opponent, Xander Bogaerts, from third.
McCann, 23, was at the other end of the experience scale from Lennerton, though not necessarily on the prospect standing. He was the Tigers' top pick two years ago, but he was also a catcher in an organization with no shortage of them the past couple years. He also was a .200 hitter last year at Double-A Erie.
To more than a few in the organization, he has the defensive skills to catch in the Majors right now. The offense has always been the question. With a .283 average and 37 RBIs at Erie this season, he's starting to provide an answer.
"I'd say the biggest thing for me has been the confidence," McCann said. "I had the approach last year, but this year it's been the approach and understanding that I can't let one bad at-bat or two bad at-bats snowball into a series of games and realize that each at-bat is its own at-bat. It's the conviction, the confidence."
Some of that, he said, came from the Tigers staff, coaches who worked with him when he was in big league camp as an extra catcher. It's OK to chase a pitch out of the strike zone every now and then, he was told. He shouldn't be afraid to be aggressive at the plate if Miguel Cabrera and Fielder aren't.
"I never really heard that before," McCann said. "In college, it was all, 'Don't swing at a pitch in the dirt.' ... Hearing that from them was good for me."
So, too, was a daily journal he began keeping on how pitchers approach him. He'd write down the pitches he saw each game and kept track of how that changed from team to team, month to month. In a league where video scouting and analysis aren't that common, his information has helped.
McCann entered Sunday's game at catcher for the final few innings, grounding out in the seventh.