7. Ryan McMahon (896 points, 39 ballots)
Compared to the seasons that preceded it, 2016 was a down year for Ryan McMahon—but I’d say it’s a stretch to call it a disaster, as many have. The 22-year-old lefty hitting corner infielder entered 2016 looking like an impact future major leaguer, as he had just posted a .300/.372/.520 line with 67 extra base hits (141 wRC+) in 556 plate appearances with High-A Modesto. McMahon’s breakout 2015 combined with the scouting reports and draft pedigree led him to be listed on the top 100 lists of most of the national prospect writers, including a top 50 designation for Baseball America (43), MLB.com (48), and Baseball Prospectus (36). After 2016 those, accolades have disappeared.
Playing at the Double-A level against opposition that was on average 3.3 years older, McMahon finally found a level where he didn’t mash. In 535 plate appearances for the Yard Goats, McMahon hit just .242/.325/.399 with 44 extra base hits. Notably though, after the All-Star Break McMahon appeared to have settled into the level a little, posting a .263/.347/.450 line in 171 at-bats with 18 extra base hits. McMahon's 30.1 percent strikeout rate is worrisome considering it was the fourth straight year it increased, but at least his 10.3 percent walk rate was acceptable.
The surface numbers for 2016 are much less impressive than his previous stats, but it's important to note that McMahon's line still equates to a 101 wRC+. That's very near league average and is not a bad sign for a young player. In fact, McMahon's 2016 was not too unlike the line produced by Nolan Arenado in Double-A Tulsa (110 wRC+) back in 2012 at the same age. Defensively, McMahon split his time about evenly at both first base and third base this year as he prepares for life in Arenado's shadow. While the field and arm tools still flash plus potential, McMahon committed 24 errors in 2016—down from the 39 he had in 2015—but still more than I'd like to see.
For more on McMahon, take a look at Bobby DeMuro's Spring Training profile of the young infielder.
Colorado still believes in [McMahon’s] offensive upside because he has a smooth left-handed swing with bat speed and loft, generating power to all fields. McMahon has some feel for hitting and the patience to take walks, but he must make adjustments and cut down on his strikeouts.
McMahon has the tools to be an asset at the hot corner, but he is an erratic defender who has led his league in errors by a third baseman in each of the past two years, including 39 in 2015. A good athlete with solid arm strength and reliable hands, he gets into trouble with his footwork.
John Sickels of Minor League Ball had McMahon seventh in the system:
Tough call here, left-handed power that made him so attractive is still here but contact problems were severe last year and defense has been disappointing, enough to move him to first base even without being blocked by Nolan Arenado; on the right day still shows an electric bat and he is young enough to make needed adjustments but parallels to Ian Stewart can’t be ignored.
Baseball Prospectus dropped him down to 10th on their list:
The Good: Despite a down year statistically, McMahon still has the same potential plus game power we’ve raved about in year’s past. The swing can get a little long at times, but there is enough bat speed and leverage here to drive balls to all fields. He can handle premium velocity, and the ball jumps off his bat wherever—and this year whenever—-he makes good contact. He’s still a potentially above-average major-league third baseman, with soft hands, solid actions, and a plus arm.
The Bad: McMahon had a rough transition to Double-A. The length and uppercut in his swing got exposed against better stuff and sequencing in the Eastern League, and too often his adjustment was just to drop his shoulder and swing harder. The approach has always been aggressive and there was always a risk the hit tool was going to be fringy, but McMahon looked particularly vulnerable against stuff diving down and away. The transition to half-time first baseman is a work in progress and he looked a little awkward around the bag. It looked better in Fall Ball—and he is athletic enough that he should be plus there in time—but the bat might be truly stretched at first base.
The Risks: The risk profile is a lot higher than it was at this point last year. Double-A can be tough. If he ends up a first baseman due to team need—though he is technically blocked there now too I guess—the bat-to-ball skills will have to get a lot better.
Finally, Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs was way down on McMahon, dropping him to 15th in the system:
Scouts to whom I’ve spoken regarding McMahon can’t escape his tantalizing power. He has a gorgeous left-handed swing with natural loft and when McMahon connects he hits some of the prettiest home runs you’ll see. These pyrite parabolas distract from swing-and-miss issues that, based on my Fall League looks, are potentially fatal to McMahon’s prospectdom. McMahon’s strikeout rate at Double-A this year was alarming, as was his drop in power production, and his woes have continued here in Arizona this fall. He doesn’t track well and often fouls off punishable pitches in the middle of the zone. He has 60 raw power and, while the length in McMahon’s swing makes it hard for him to get the bat head there consistently, if he catches anything down and in it’s sent into orbit. He golfed out an inside slider during the Fall Stars game (his only home run of Fall League play).
Defensively, McMahon’s transition to first base outwardly seems like it’s being made to find a spot for McMahon in a big-league lineup that includes the godlike Nolan Arenado, but most scouts think he’ll end up there simply because he isn’t very good at third. Proponents cite the heavy move to first base as the chief reason for the struggles at the plate. Others think the issues that plagued Double-A Hartford this year (they played all of their games on the road) had something to do with it. I just don’t think McMahon is going to hit which, suffice to say, will make it hard to profile at first base. He could be a buy-low throw-in target for teams that still believe, because plenty of scouts still like this guy.
McMahon’s 2016 was a step back but not a disaster. I think that Arenado's presence will delay McMahon's major-league debut, but a need for another power bat could lead the Rockies to call him up as soon as midseason 2017. More likely it would be in 2018 after the Rockies have to add McMahon to the 40 man roster.
We all hope that McMahon's development path will adhere closely to Arenado's, but even if it doesn't McMahon is a potential every day major leaguer who will provide great power production. For that reason, McMahon was seventh on my PuRPs ballot and received a 50 Future Value as a MLB regular.