When the Colorado Rockies drafted Ryan McMahon in the second round of the 2013 MLB Draft out of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California, even they probably didn't expect the third baseman would take to professional baseball quite this quickly.
McMahon turned 21 just over a month ago, and yet he's already knocking on the door at Double-A after three successful seasons rising through the Rockies' minor league system. We ranked him 4th on our summer PuRPs list; soon, you'll see how highly he's ranked on the preseason 2016 list, too.
Those rankings are well-earned; McMahon has put in three consistent and strong seasons at rookie-level Grand Junction, Low-A Asheville, and High-A Modesto, against competition on average two and a half years older than the third baseman. If he were intimidated or overmatched by anybody thus far in his career, it sure hasn't been reflected in McMahon's performance.
Now, he'll most likely face a new challenge in 2016: Double-A Hartford. It'll be a big jump to the far more pitcher-friendly Eastern League, and McMahon will enter the high minors just a couple months after being able to buy his first beer. But as I found out this week, that's all part of the plan for the southern California kid, who feels comfortable with the path he's on in the Rockies' organization.
Here's the conversation I had with McMahon, edited lightly for clarity and brevity.
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BD: Recently, you spoke with MiLB.com about your big 2015, which inspired me to talk to you in the first place. You had a great year, but did you meet all your personal goals? Was there anything looking back that you wish you had accomplished but didn't?
RM: I actually don't set specific personal goals. There are certain things that I have on my "player plan" that I know I need to work on, so throughout the season my goal is to grow in those areas and conduct myself in the most professional way I can going about my business.
It would've been nice for the team to make playoffs, but overall I thought it was a great year for me, and for a lot of my teammates from a developmental standpoint. For this spring and summer, I'm just really excited and itching to get back out there and hopefully build off last year and keep improving.
Looking at your game log in 2015, you never really had a slump last more than about three days, which is rare for someone your age in High-A. How did you put together such a consistent season?
I credit it all to my mental approach and the strides I made there last offseason. I was able to stay locked in with my approach and my plan more than I ever had been able to previously, so I credit it to that as well as a more consistent daily hitting routine.
All three years of your career, you've been two and a half years younger than your average opponent. Did you expect to be here this quickly, to likely being 21 years old in Double-A? Has it hit you yet how close you are to the Majors?
I try to not worry about that stuff and just go out there, play my game to the best of my ability, and help my team win. In the end it's still baseball. Whether you're younger or older than everyone, you still have to play the game.
I spoke to Sam Howard recently, and he mentioned how playing college ball was critical for his development. You went the other way, signing straight out of high school, and it's worked. Any regrets over not playing college ball? Or was this always the path you wanted to take?
No, definitely no regrets about not going to college. These last three years have really helped me mature and grow up, being around guys who have gone to college and were more mature than I was.
Do you attend college in the winters, or is that something you'll pursue after baseball is over?
I don't attend college in the offseason, but one day I do hope to go back. Right now, I'm just focusing on chasing the dream.
How has the offseason been going for you? What have you been focusing on improving?
The offseason has been great. I'm getting in some good work with my roommates, David Dahl and Trevor Story. I've just been working on consistency in my game: hitting, fielding, and the mental side. I have a pretty good idea of what I need to do to be the best version of me in those three categories, so I've been working on consistently being the best version of myself every day.
How is living with Dahl, Story, and Tyler Chatwood? You guys are going to bed at 9pm every night, eating three square meals a day, helping little old ladies cross the street, and living a perfect life, right? (Seriously, what's it like living with them, and how has Chatwood been advising you, having been in the Majors?)
It's great, man. We all push each other at the field in everything we do, whether it's hitting, fielding, lifting, agilities. Anything we do we want to do better than the other, so it's created a competitive work environment that has made us all better in my opinion. In the end, we are all rooting for each other, but I know I personally don't like losing to any of them.
Chatwood is the man. He comes in every day ready to get to work, but he keeps it light and fun at the same time. He's the type of guy you want to imitate as far as getting your work done and carrying yourself professionally.
Despite 32 errors in Asheville and 39 in Modesto, do you feel like you're improving in the field? The Rockies have a pretty good third baseman right now who made errors early in his career, so obviously process is more important than stats. Are you on the right path with the glove?
It's been really good. I think I'm on the right path as far as that goes. I feel like I can do a lot of things well on the defensive side, but clearly I need to get more consistent and clean things up. The errors speak for themselves, and getting consistent is going to be the important thing for me on that side of the ball.
Speaking of that current Rockies third baseman, have you looked forward wondering what might happen in another year or two if you're ready and Nolan Arenado is still around? Is it tough to stay in your own lane when the big leagues might be just a couple seasons away?
I'd be lying if I said I hadn't ever looked, but honestly it's something I try to not worry about. I can't control it. All I can do is be the best player I can be, and go out and work as hard as I can to try to make myself a better player. If I don't get better or keep playing well I won't make it to Denver anyways, so I block it out by telling myself I have more stuff to work on before I'm ready for all that, and I just focus my attention on those things.
Have the Rockies indicated anything about your future along side Arenado? Do you expect to get reps at first base or something, or is it third base every day and you'll see what happens in a couple years?
They haven't indicated anything about a future alongside Nolan, but I have recently been introduced to first base this past week. I'm still a third baseman, but I was introduced to it and started taking some reps over there after my work at third base.
So that's completely new? Have the Rockies said anything about why they asked you to do it, or did they just say, hey, after you're done with your work at third base, go over to first and get more work?
Yeah, I just started working there a couple times a week. Nothing major. But no, they didn't say anything besides telling me to hop over there a couple times a week.
We're running our preseason top 30 prospects now, and we focus on all the big names: you, Dahl, Jordan Patterson, Story, etc. Is there an off the radar teammate of yours that Rockies fans should know about and doesn't get enough credit?
Honestly, all I know is there are a lot of talented guys in our system who play the game hard and can ball out, so I feel like we have a very strong system. I have no idea who is on and off the radar, haha, but one of my favorite guys to play with is Mike Benjamin. That guy plays hard and he does a lot of things right. He can ball out.
In offseason workouts or spring training, which pitcher in the Rockies' organization is the toughest for you to face?
I've never faced Matt Carasiti and I don't ever want to, but Carlos Estevez was a guy I faced before our season in Asheville together, and 98 mph downhill with a hammer to go with it wasn't fun.
Final question: what's your walk-up song going to be this year?
Haha, I'm not sure yet, man. I've got some choices lined up. I'm different from most people, I'm all about the best, but most likely it's going to be an older song from, like, the early 2000s.
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McMahon is a pleasure to talk to—a nice, easy-going guy who went out of his way to connect with me yesterday to do this interview. Of course, this isn't the first time he's spoken to Purple Row in his career. Jen Mac Ramos talked with him last summer about his approach and adjustments while playing in Modesto. Drew Creasman talked to him two years ago, when he was a teenager in Grand Junction. Surely, you can look forward to us speaking more with him in March during spring training, too.