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Rockies 2016 minor league review: Notes on Ryan McMahon, Daniel Montano

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Plus bonus content from our conversation with Rockies director of player development Zach Wilson.

Minor League Baseball: Arizona Fall League-Scottsdale Scorpions at Salt River Rafters Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday, we published our Colorado Rockies minor league year in review, handing out a few awards to some of the top/most interesting players in the organization. A couple of notable players weren’t included in that piece but, because of some intriguing things about their very different outcomes in 2016, were talked about in our recent conversation with Rockies director of player development Zach Wilson.

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Stock up: Daniel Montano

A look at Montano’s .228/.325/.427 line in his pro debut with the DSL Rockies doesn’t elicit the popping of eyes or anything like that, but a deeper look suggests he’s on the verge of being something special.

Montano, a left-handed-hitting outfielder, finished tied for second in the league in homers with nine and posted an 11 percent walk rate. From a tools standpoint, Wilson compared him to another young Rockies standout: David Dahl.

“[Montano] is an extremely talented young man with a ton of tools,” Wilson said glowingly. “He’s very young; he’s very young looking, he’s very young physically, he’s very young from a maturity standpoint. Great kid, great kid, he’s just young in every way you would expect him to be.”

The keyword for Montano is clearly “young,” but that’s what makes his debut so impressive. Not many players at any age flash the kind of power he did at 17 years old. However, it also speaks to how far away he is.

“There’s still a lot to be done there,” Wilson explained. “We’re definitely going to take our time, we’re definitely going to make sure we’re doing the right thing for him every step of the way, which will include deciding whether he comes over to the states next year.”

“But his ceiling is extremely high,” Wilson continued. “Obviously he proved what that ceiling could be in a very strong first DSL season, and much like David Dahl when he was young, the sky's the limit for this young kid.”

Stock down: Ryan McMahon

After his breakout 2015 season at High-A Modesto—a place where many Rockies prospects have struggled offensively over the years—huge things appeared to be in store for McMahon. Instead, the 21-year-old infielder struggled to the tune of a .242/.325/.399 line in 535 plate appearances at Double-A Hartford.

McMahon, whose strikeout rate ballooned to more than 30 percent in 2016, was recently given a worrisome scouting report from Fangraphs’ Eric Longenhagen, who ranked the highly touted prospect 15th on his organizational list. The chief concerns are that McMahon won’t hit enough to stick at first base, where he’ll need to move in order to eventually receive playing time at the major league level, and because, according to Longenhagen, he might not be a strong enough defender to remain at third.

At any rate, Wilson sees McMahon’s struggles this season—one in which he still managed to produce at a slightly above-average rate offensively—a good thing.

“I look at his year in its entirety, as a complete success,” Wilson said in defense of McMahon. “I think, from the outside looking in, a lot of times people only see success as a big fat line or putting up certain numbers or you know, whatever. I look at it as learning lessons through both success and failure.”

McMahon had plenty of both during Hartford’s rollercoaster season. For instance, he homered nine times in the second half after hitting just three total from the beginning of the season through June. Also, McMahon posted his best walk rate—10.3 percent—since his first year as a professional, but he took just 21 free passes and struck out 75 times in that second half. But overall, he was better later in the season, posting a .340 on-base percentage and slugging over .500 after the All-Star break.

On the whole, 2016 for McMahon was a lesson in learning through failure—something the organization likes to see from its players, according to Wilson.

“If the first time [players] are ever experiencing adversity is the major league level, then quite frankly we haven't done a good job,” Wilson explained. “The great thing about Ryan this year is that he embraced that adversity, and he was able to take lessons from it. It showed at the end of the year.”

Even Longenhagen mentioned that some scouts believe McMahon’s struggles had to do with his transition to first base, as well as Hartford’s season-long road trip as a result of the franchise’s well-documented ballpark issues. Wilson sees it the same way.

“I mean, we're asking him to take his daily work and his focus into understanding the nuances of a new position,” Wilson said. “Quite frankly, that takes away from some other things.”

“All in all, I'm proud of his year,” Wilson continued. “Certainly he can take some great things away from this year and I expect him to be on the rise as we go into 2017.”