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Rockies prospect rankings: No. 4 Ryan McMahon eating up California League pitching

McMahon, just 20, is working on his third consecutive season with a wRC+ of 137 or better.

Jen Mac Ramos

PuRP No. 4: Ryan McMahon (977 points, 37 ballots) | Winter 2014 Ranking: 7 | High Ballot 1 (1), Mode Ballot 4

The parallels between Ryan McMahon and Nolan Arenado are easy to make. After all, both were high school third basemen from California taken in the second round, both have shown the ability to be great defensively (the 32 errors McMahon has made this year will give pause, but they don't give a full indication of potential), and both immediately hit well in their professional careers.

In his first two pro seasons, the lefty hitter (okay, that's different from Nolan) excelled against pitchers that were on average 2.5 years older than him, posting a 147 wRC+ at Rookie-ball Grand Junction and 137 wRC+ at Low-A Asheville. On defense, he was marked as the top defender at the position in the South Atlantic League by multiple scouts. Sure, McMahon made 44 errors over his frist two seasons, but those errors had a lot to do with context (and some erratic throws); we're talking poorly groomed infields and first basemen who don't have the digging skills possessed by major leaguers.

Those hitting performances at his age and the defensive potential put McMahon on the very edge of preseason top 100 prospect lists. His performance this year as a 20-year-old in the High-A California League has elevated his prospect stock to solidly into that top 100 company. He placed 47th on the Baseball Prospectus list58th on, and 57th in Minor League Ball's midseason update.

In 484 plate appearances so far with Modesto, McMahon has a .305/.380/.521 line (147 wRC+) with 57 extra-base hits. That line is inflated somewhat by a .408 BABIP, but it's nonetheless impressive given the context. McMahon has shown patience at the plate (9.4 percent walk rate), though he has struck out more often than I'd like to see (26.9 percent). McMahon has been even hotter in the season's second half, putting up a .320/.379/.580 line with 21 extra-base hits in 181 at-bats. He's also managed a respectable .292/.390/.443 line in 106 at-bats against left-handed pitching, a weakness for him at Asheville last year.

In a recent evaluation, Wilson Karaman of BP gave McMahon 55 or better tool scores across the board, with the exception of speed, for an overall OFP of 60 and a realistic role of a first division regular. Here was his conclusion:

McMahon is a solid across-the-board prospect without any glaring holes in his projection. He's among the younger regular position players in the California League, and while his swing and approach are both still works in progress, he's held his own thanks to impressive athleticism and a broad foundation of skills. It'll require some seasoning, but there's an above-average hit/game power bat here, and with a frame capable of adding additional mass, an outside chance for an actualized 55/60 hit/game power hitter at the hot corner. Coupled with above-average defensive projection he has the tools and talent to develop into a first-division major leaguer.

Meanwhile, placed McMahon fifth in the stacked Rockies system:

When building a prototype for a third baseman, the hope is he'll be able to hit for power, if not also for average, and play at least a solid defensive third base. McMahon appears headed toward fitting that description perfectly.

The Rockies feel McMahon will develop into a middle-of-the-order bat, with a smooth left-handed swing. He's already shown an ability to tap into his raw power in game situations, something that's only going to get better with experience. He does need to improve his overall plate discipline, though he's not afraid to take a walk, and he should improve his approach and become an even better overall hitter. Defensively, he has the chance to be as good as the Gold Glover currently in Colorado, Nolan Arenado, with great hands, a strong throwing arm and outstanding instincts at the hot corner.

McMahon will be just 20 for all of the 2015 season, so time is very much on his side. The more the former high school quarterback plays, the better he seems to fit that third-base profile.

McMahon's professional career to date has been everything we could have hoped for and the reports about his makeup are just as encouraging. And oh by the way, McMahon is still pretty raw as a prospect after spending his high school days splitting time between baseball and quarterbacking (sound familiar?), so we could see even more growth from the lefty as he moves up the organizational ladder.

I placed McMahon fourth on my ballot given his performance, draft position, and plus tools. McMahon should start next year in Double-A and will have the opportunity to prove that he can continue to mash even against upper-level pitching.

Contract Status: 2013 second round, not Rule 5 eligible (2016), three options remaining

MLB ETA: Late 2017