Lakeland, Fla. – Former Detroit Tigers catcher Lance Parrish used to drive manager Sparky Anderson loco every year with his offseason weight-lifting regimen. Parrish was part of the first wave of baseball players who lifted heavy weights to build muscle mass.
Anderson was from an older school of thought that believed too much muscle mass meant a slower, clunkier catcher with decreased bat speed.
He would be similarly displeased with James McCann this spring. If you’ve watched the Tigers at all, you’ve noticed McCann is significantly bulked-up, especially in his upper body.
“It wasn’t something I tried to do, to be honest,” he said. “I tried to eat as clean as I could, but the amount of time spent at the hospital made it kind of tough.”
McCann and his wife Jessica gave premature birth to twin boys before the start of training camp. He spent most of the offseason, and the first few weeks of camp, shuttling between the gym and the hospital – with daily stops at Zaxby’s carry-out.
“But I also really got after it (workouts) in the morning,” he said. “I went into this offseason without a goal of trying to put on weight, but with a goal of just feeling good.”
He didn’t step on a scale until the middle of January. It was alarming.
“I got on the scale for the first time and I thought it was broken,” he said. “I’d put on 25 pounds. I looked in a mirror and, I don’t look like I got bad weight. But I worked out at new places and with a different workout routine.
“I feel great. But I did push more weight than in the past and the results are there.”
McCann’s listed weight is 225 but he was near 250 when he stepped on that scale in January.
A more massive McCann was one of the first things manager Ron Gardenhire noticed at spring training, too.
“I knew he was a big guy,” he said. “But when I saw him up close, my God. That’s a big man.”
The salient question, though, is whether the extra mass is having unintended consequences. He hasn’t thrown the ball well yet this spring – though he said throwing is always the last thing that comes. And he hasn’t driven the ball much like he has in past springs, which may be a product of timing or perhaps slower bat speed.
“When guys build mass like that you worry about them losing flexibility,” said Tigers bench coach Steve Liddle, who is also in charge of the catchers. “As long as he maintains that, he will be OK. A lot of catching is, you are only as good as your feet – whether it be throwing or blocking.
“That’s why you look at him – he’s not a very fast runner but he’s really quick with his feet.”
Liddle doesn’t think the extra mass is a problem for McCann – yet.
“You do worry about guys getting too bulked up,” he said. “But also, extra weight can help you over the course of the season because sometimes you can lose up to five or six pounds.”
McCann worked on the back fields Saturday and Sunday, getting extra at-bats in minor-league games and catching Jordan Zimmermann’s start Sunday. With the start here Monday against the Orioles, he’s caught four straight days.
“Physically, I feel great,” he said. “It’s been a good spring as far as getting work in but also for maintaining strength. I feel like I am working up to peak instead of peaking two weeks into camp and then trying to hold on to it for another two weeks.”
Just to be safe, Liddle is keeping a wary eye on McCann’s weight-room activity.
“You have to hold him back,” Liddle said. “I am going to have to put my thumb on him a little bit. But I’ll tell you this, you’d rather have to put a thumb on someone instead of begging him to work.”