As I discussed in this mornings Rockpile, Ryan McMahon is getting some glowing reviews including this recent one from Fangraphs.
I've seen the rumblings here in our comments section and it is becoming clearer that the Rockies may face a decision soon when it comes not just to his future, but to the future of the infield position throughout the organization including the current major league team.
That moment may not be upon us just yet, but it appears to be gaining on us quicker than a more conservative projected outlook would have predicted.
McMahon is a superb athlete. A quarterback out of Mater Dei High School in California, he was recruited to play the position at USC but chose to forgo that in favor of dominating the Pioneer and South Atlantic Leagues so far.
His insane power numbers right now -- .340/.443/.760 with a league leading six home runs and a .420 isolated power (WHAT!?) -- are almost certainly being aided by the Asheville Tourists notoriously friendly hitters park.
238 wRC+. Like, I didn't even know you could do that.
Radio accounts have suggested that even a few cheaper home runs would still have been at-least doubles because he is hitting the edges and gaps of the diamond.
He is currently (slightly) outperforming David Dahl and Raimel Tapia, both of whom he is younger than. We absolutely cannot expect this to continue but it would also be hard to deny that McMahon's performance doesn't demand both attention and planning.
But is he being blocked by the depth at his position?
As Charlie Drysdale wrote recently, McMahon already ranks right at the top of third base prospects in the system. But three other guys on that list (Rosell Hererra, Trevor Story, and Christian Adames) are all closer to the show. And the big awesome Gold-Glove-winning-elephant-in-the-room is, of course, Nolan Arenado's presence at the hot corner for the big Rox now.
So is this a problem and does it need to be solved? Let's assume it is for a moment and take a look at some potential solutions.
Move McMahon to 1B or 2B
This sounds way easier than it is.
McMahon had the skills to play short stop in high school and many of those can translate to being a decent second baseman. Though, as we have seen with Josh Rutledge, sometimes not so much. If he can play second as well as he plays third, it would be the best place for him as it could give the Rockies consistency at a position they've never had it along with an unusually good bat (especially for power) and arm for the position.
The idea of him at first is an intriguing one as well. With Troy Tulowitzki and Nolan Arenado holding down the left side, it is also possible that Hererra or Story is converted to second instead, or that the team makes a long term commitment to either D.J. LeMahieu or Josh Rutledge (or both) if they play well the next few seasons.
This could block McMahon's path to the more athletic infield positions but also right around the time that Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau could be ending their tenure with the Rockies. His bat already profiles more as a first-baseman (at least right now it does) and I always like the idea of having a plus athlete over there as it adds a dynamic most teams lack.
However, in the immortal words of Ron Washington and Billy Beane in Moneyball when Scott Hatteberg tells him he's never played first base before, "Scott, it's not that hard."
"It's incredibly hard."
And they are both right. Digging the ball out at first is a unique skill. Some guys can do it and some can't. I have no idea that McMahon has ever tried, but it may be worth giving it a look because the depth at first is way shallower than the rest of the infield and his skill set may just allow him to be an exceptional all-around first baseman, or even super-utility man.
Trade him or something blocking him
This...again...sounds easier than it is.
I really can't speculate as to either the trade value or availability of the other infielders (Hererra, Story) that I've mentioned but trading one could certainly make way for McMahon and help the team out in another area. I have even seen some people suggest that the Rockies sell high on Nolan Arenado in a trade before having to pay him (a la Dexter Fowler and Matt Holliday) precisely because they will have McMahon waiting in the wings.
Right now it's hard to see anything but locking Arenado down long-term. The Rockies can hang in a holding pattern for a while on Arenado but if he continues to be the amazing spider man at third he will only get more expensive the longer they wait.
Some might argue (and have) that all this amounts to Ryan McMahon being excellent trade bait. I could even see a particularly prudent scenario under which the Rockies keep McMahon in Asheville all year letting him put up absurd numbers and then selling him as a skyrocketing prospect.
It might also make some sense to move him for something that might help the major league team sooner if they expect to contend next season with Eddie Butler and Jon Gray likely along for the ride.
Problem or Solution?
So is this a problem and does it need to be solved?
The Rockies have shown no signs of moving Ryan at this point and it might not be the best idea to mess with a guy who is playing so well. And, in my opinion, they should do everything to make room for him, wherever he fits.
Much has been made about McMahon's character and leadership (as it should be) which was in abundance when I spoke with him and watched him play in Grand Junction last season.
But it can be hard to fully understand how infectious his particular demeanor can be for a baseball team. And for those of you who scoff when management makes a big deal about "leaders" and the like, you might want to think of Ryan McMahon as always being in the opposite mode of whatever Jorge de la Rosa is doing right now.
Ryan has two modes on a baseball field; passionate frustration with himself when he makes a mistake, and infectious positivity the rest of the time.
That's the kind of guy you want on your team if he can play even just a little bit. The Colorado Rockies should do everything in their power to monitor the Ryan McMahon situation closely and to keep him on the team.
It's probably not time to talk about any drastic changes yet, but if this isn't just a flash in the pan they also don't want to be caught unprepared should McMahon's bat demand a path to the big leagues before they are ready to make long-term decisions on Arenado, LeMahieu, Rutledge, Hererra, Story, or for that matter, Morneau, Cuddyer, or Kyle Parker at first.
It's way too early both in the season and in his career to be making any proclamations, but McMahon has the tools to be as good or better than any of those players especially when you include the intangibles. Clever planning could keep the Rockies from having to choose between him any of them.
For me, the best case scenario 2017 infield is Arenado, Tulo, McMahon and Player X. Of course, when you are projecting that far into the future there are a lot of variables. Player X could be any of the players I mentioned or someone not even with the team now but assuming Arenado doesn't take a total dive in the next few seasons it seems clear that McMahon's value to this team may ultimately be somewhere other than where he is now.
The Rockies are unlikely to do anything about this immediately. But they should absolutely be flexible enough to be looking into it soon.
Don't corner McMahon in (get it?) for too long. Provide him with any avenue to help himself and the Rockies from either a spot that has long been a thorn in their side (second base) or a place where they could use another home-grown leader and icon of Rockies; first base.