In a world where pandemic protocols place significant restrictions on what is allowed at and away from team facilities, everyone’s job this spring training is a little more difficult and a little less fun — a reality that is especially real for James McCann.
The Mets’ new catcher is tasked with learning his brand-new pitching staff in six weeks. Chatting in person means doing so with masks on, six feet apart, a dynamic that "nobody likes," McCann said. Socializing away from work is tougher than normal because they aren’t allowed inside restaurants and other spaces.
Fortunately, McCann said, the biggest factor in a catcher-pitcher relationship still is readily available.
"As much as I want to talk to guys, I want to get to know somebody personally, all you can really do to get to know somebody is the experience of catching someone," said McCann, who at four years and $40.6 million received the largest contract awarded by the Mets in Steve Cohen’s first offseason as owner. "Catching as many bullpen and as many side [sessions] as I can, catching in game situations, whatever it may be. You can watch as many videos, you can talk as much as you want, but at the end of the day you have to get that experience of actually being on the field together. So that's going to be the challenge of spring."
McCann, 30, tried to get a jumpstart after signing in December. He watched video of "everybody," he said, and had video calls with pitching coach Jeremy Hefner and catching coach Brian Schneider.
His goal was to build a foundation of knowledge, so that when he arrived in Port St. Lucie — as he did over the weekend — he didn’t have to pester them with too many questions. He said he already has an idea of what each pitcher throws, how they like to attack batters and some keywords that they need and like.
One person McCann plans to ask a bunch of questions: ace Jacob deGrom.
"Probably to the point where he gets annoyed by it," McCann said during a video news conference on Tuesday, the day before pitchers and catchers officially report to Port St. Lucie. "Because the little bit I have dealt with him, I know he’s kind of a no-funny-business type of guy, so I’m sure my questions will eventually annoy him. It’s just going to be me trying to figure him out."
McCann went through a similar adjustment process — albeit in a "pre-COVID world," as he called it — two years ago when he joined the White Sox.
How would his approach with the Mets be different if the world was normal?
"There would be a lot more going out to eat with guys, having guys over the house, if they've got families, come hang out with my family," said McCann, who has his wife and 3-year-old twin sons with him at spring training. "Just to kind of do life together and be away from the game of baseball. So that is a challenge in itself, that our time is limited together."
McCann’s job would be slightly easier if the Mets still had Steven Matz, who was traded to the Blue Jays last month, and Brad Brach, who was designated for assignment last week. He caught both when they were offseason workout partners in Tennessee.
Of the 24 pitchers on the Mets’ 40-man roster, McCann has not previously been teammates with anyone. But he did face righthander Carlos Carrasco a bunch during their seven seasons as AL Central foes.
Carrasco and shortstop Francisco Lindor joined the Mets in their marquee offseason move, a trade with Cleveland.
"Playing against them and then also hearing from their teammates, they’re phenomenal individuals, phenomenal human beings and great teammates," McCann said. "So hearing the news that we traded for them, I was obviously very excited to be able to be on the same team as them, but also I no longer have to face Carlos Carrasco and no longer have to try to figure out how to get Lindor out. I get to sit back and enjoy watching the show."
Personnel news. Reliever Brad Brach was released. Righthander Corey Oswalt cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Syracuse and invited to major-league spring training. Both pitchers were designated for assignment last week.
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