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Brian McCann battled injuries throughout the 2012 season.
Brian McCann has an irrepressible smile and passion for the game. That has been evident since he burst onto the scene as a fresh-faced 21-year-old rookie in 2005.
Since then, McCann has earned the respect of the Atlanta pitching staff and his teammates. He has also built a reputation as one of the best hitting catchers in baseball.
The average McCann season from 2006-2011 was .287/.359/.491 with 22 homers and 86 RBI's in 137 games. Those numbers earned him six All-Star appearances and five Silver Slugger awards.
Then 2012 happened. It was a career-worst campaign that ended in a.230/.300/.399 slash line. He did connect for 20 home runs and drive home 67 runs in 121 games, but this was not the McCann of years past. There were not many if any encouraging ways to look at his splits.
The early struggles may well have been a slump that was bound to happen sooner or later, but eventually it became clear that McCann's injured right shoulder was contributing to his substandard performance. It was affecting the slugger's swing more so than his throwing.
Rather than end his season prematurely, McCann opted to have a pair of injections in hopes of alleviating the pain and playing through the injury.
Those cortisone shots may have kept McCann on the field, but his swing was clearly affected. Even this spring, McCann told Gabe Lacques of USA TODAY that playing through the pain is a decision he stands by.
"In the moment last year, I wanted to keep going, I wanted to be a part of that team that was having such a good season. I grinded through it. I wasn't playing at my best. I knew I wasn't at my best. It's a decision I made."
McCann batted just .202 with four extra-base hits and 11 RBI in the final two months of the season, and found himself benched in favor of Ross in Atlanta's Wild Card game against St. Louis.
Despite coming off the worst season in his eight-year career, the Braves decided to exercise his $12 million team option for 2013. They have seen McCann at his best and believe he can get back there once fully healed.
The October surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder has McCann targeting a mid-April return to game action if his rehab goes according to schedule. The procedure has kept McCann out of Grapefruit League action thus far.
It has not been uncommon for McCann to battle through aches and pains over the years. He has proven to be quite durable, catching an average of 125 games in his six full seasons prior to 2012.
The word leadership has been a hot topic around spring training for Atlanta. It is a period of transition, but not the kind that involves rebuilding. The Braves have simply reloaded.
There is no one player in the Atlanta locker room who is more qualified to lead than McCann. He saw the Braves' success as a rookie, then the struggles that followed. He watched his club be both a buyer and a seller at different stages before returning to the playoffs in 2010.
McCann is now 29 years old. He is truly a homegrown talent, an Georgia native who grew up in suburban Atlanta and was developed in the Braves' farm system. McCann studied under the legendary Bobby Cox and played alongside Atlanta sports icon Chipper Jones for eight campaigns.
He has always seemed wise beyond his years, and has learned from the best the Braves had to offer.
As ESPN's Jerry Crasnick wrote just prior to spring training, Jones eyed McCann as his successor to lead the team after his retirement. That is, if McCann remains in Atlanta after 2013.
"I'd like to say it's Brian McCann. He's a great kid. He's a great player, and he's the kind of guy you want to build a ball club around. It would be sad to see him go somewhere else. Unfortunately, the business and economics of baseball may not allow it to happen.''
The winter was filled with a flurry of activity. Jones retired. B.J. Upton signed as a free agent, and Justin Upton was later acquired in a trade that sent Martin Prado to Arizona.
Once, left-hand heavy, Atlanta lineup is now much more balanced. With McCann back and in top form, the Braves batting order would get that much better.