To the sound of 20,000 cheering fans at Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Park, Kyle McCann stepped to the plate to do what he’d done all season for Georgia Tech.
A reminder of his origins in Forsyth County wasn’t far away. Jamie Corr, McCann’s former coach at Lambert and the current Denmark High athletic director, was reprising his role as McCann’s batting practice pitcher.
“That meant a lot,” McCann said. “When I called him and asked him to do it, within two seconds he said he was in.
“It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. It was a one-time experience, a once in a lifetime opportunity. I had a blast with it.”
McCann’s 10-home run performance in the first round of the College Home Run Derby was a fitting end to a breakout sophomore season in college. After competing in the derby on Sunday, McCann headed back to the east coast, where he’s currently playing for the Chatham Anglers of the prestigious Cape Cod League, looking to hone his craft in preparation for becoming MLB Draft eligible a year from now.
For the 2018 season, McCann became a true power threat for the Yellow Jackets. He hit .300 with 10 doubles, 15 home runs, and 45 RBIs, with the latter two totals being good enough for second-most on the team. McCann’s output helped in earn third team All-ACC honors.
The numbers were a significant improvement from McCann’s freshman year, when he hit just .198. Georgia Tech hitting coach Mike Nickeas credits McCann’s attitude for much of the jump from his freshman year.
“He’s got a great sense of humor,” Nickeas said. “I think he’s very bright. When other guys may be tensing up a little bit, he brings some levity to the moment. Even if he’s struggling or having a bad game, you don’t see him beating himself up in a negative way. He may get frustrated at times, but I think his focus remains on the bigger picture.”
It’s that attention to a larger frame of reference that has allowed McCann to blossom into one of college baseball’s rising young power hitters. After seeing what the increased level of competition was like during his freshman year, he worked on his swing in the offseason. When he stayed consistent with his adjustments, the results came.
“When Kyle gets himself in trouble, it’s when he deviates from his approach,” Nickeas said. “He’s focused on driving the ball through the middle. I think that’s when he starts getting some opposite field hits. He’s still able to pull the ball — that will always be his strength and I never want to take that from him. But I think when he has that focus of driving that ball through the middle like he was doing a very good job of earlier in the season — he went away from it and got back to it — I think that was really cool to see.”
During his time at Lambert, where McCann was twice named All-County first team and helped the Longhorns win a state title in 2014, he was purely a catcher. But when he arrived at Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets already had Joey Bart, who went second overall to the San Francisco Giants in last month’s draft, manning that position. Tech’s coaches still wanted McCann’s bat in the lineup, so they suggested a different spot.
“When I got to Tech, they were like, ‘Hey, you know first base?’ and I was like, ‘Oh, let’s go,’” McCann said with a laugh. “I went over there and learned it so I could play. I’ve always liked catching more. I get a little bored over at first. Catching, you’ve got every pitch, you’re calling the game.”
Fortunately for McCann, he’s slated to go back to his native position during his upcoming junior year. Still, he found plenty of value shadowing a high-profile player like Bart, and the two fostered a meaningful friendship.
“We were boys,” McCann said. “We were definitely very close. We did a lot of things off the field and hung out a lot. Just to see how he carries himself on the field and off the field was cool for me. Obviously he’s very good, so it was kind of like I looked up to him a little bit. So now going into this year, I know what to expect in how to carry my business.”
Like Bart, McCann has a chance to be a high draft pick when his time comes, and is doing everything he can to raise his stock in the Cape Cod League. So far, McCann has held his own in Massachusetts, batting .279 with 12 hits and two home runs through 15 games played, as of July 4. Scouts flock to watch the top-tier talent that goes through the wood-bat league, which has helped produce some of the biggest names in the majors today. To McCann, it’s a welcome challenge.
“Every guy in the Cape Cod League throws at least 90 miles an hour,” McCann said. “You’re not going to see a soft arm up here. During the (college) season you may see an 86 or an 88. You’re not going to see that here.”
At least one more year lies between McCann and the moment his name is called at the draft. Until then, his hitting coach, a former major leaguer himself, will continue to preach the kind of mindset that breeds success.
“I tell Kyle all the time: When he decides he’s a major leaguer, I think he will be,” Nickeas said. “I think that’s something that he’s starting to realize, because the talent level is just off the charts. As he continues to mature, especially behind the plate, I think more people will recognize what a special talent he has for both catching and hitting.”