Today we continue our top five Purple Row Prospects (PuRPs) for the midseason 2017. Last week we revealed prospects 30-26, then prospects 25-21, prospects 20-16, prospects 15-11, and Monday prospects 10-6. Prospects five through three have already been revealed, which leaves two to go. As a reminder, in this edition of the PuRPs poll, 40 ballots were cast, with 30 points granted for a first place vote, 29 for second, etc.
For each player on the PuRPs list, I'll include a link to individual stats (via Baseball-Reference), PuRPs voting stats, contract status (via Rockies Roster), a note on the 2017 season to date, and a scouting report from a national prospect writer. For what it's worth, I'll also include where I put each player on my personal ballot. All ages are as of the time the article was posted.
2. Ryan McMahon (1,115 points, 40 ballots) — Preseason Ranking: 7 — High Ballot 1 (1), Mode Ballot 3
How did he enter the organization?
2013 2nd Round, Mater Dei (CA) HS
Why did he make the PuRPs list?
No Rockies prospect, with the possible exception of the man above him, has done more this year to elevate his stock than Ryan McMahon. 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 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 and struck out in over 30% of his plate appearances.
Here’s the thing though — it wasn’t really that bad of a year even before considering the context. First, McMahon still walked over 10% of the time and his triple slash actually equated to an above average 101 wRC+. 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. In addition, there was the fact that McMahon played zero true home games last year due to the Hartford stadium debacle — making it difficult for him to establish a rhythm in what already is a tough transition.
Out of the prospect limelight entering this year, repeating in Hartford (this time with home games), McMahon has been a revelation. In 205 plate appearances with the Yard Goats (against pitchers who were 2.2 years older), McMahon hit .326/.390/.536 with 24 extra base hits, maintaining his walk rate while cutting the strikeouts down to 19% — in total a 151 wRC+. With those numbers, McMahon earned a promotion to Triple A on 6/1, putting him back on track as a prospect.
What McMahon has done to Triple A pitching that is 4.4 years older since his promotion has maybe put him on a different track altogether. In 233 plate appearances with Albuquerque, McMahon has destroyed the Pacific Coast League to the tune of a .396/.421/.650 triple slash with 32 extra base hits, including 11 homers — worth 166 wRC+. The walks are down (5%), but you’ll take that when the average is hovering around .400, and the 15.7% strikeout pace McMahon is setting would easily be his career low.
The bottom line is that McMahon has figured something out in a big way and has become a fearsome hitter with 1B/2B/3B flexibility just a phone call away as the stretch run beckons this year. It’s a delightful development for Rockies fans and it’s put McMahon back in the spotlight for national writers.
What do the scouts say?
McMahon’s perceived 2016 struggles were such that he dropped off 2080 Baseball’s top 15 list entirely, relegating him in their eyes to a likely 35/ceiling 45 player due largely to the swing and miss tendencies he showed:
[McMahon] is a very good athlete and is much stronger than his lanky, wirey frame may let on. However, the bat speed is just average and the swing works at an extreme uphill angle. He does get good carry and has plus raw power, but the trajectory is more one of lofty fly-balls rather than higher exit velocity line-drives. He also has an extreme pull approach, which has been exploited by the better pitching he’s faced as he has advanced. Since his first pro season in 2013, McMahon has seen his swing-and-miss rates climb each year and and his ISO fall. Because he is such a good athlete, there is reason to believe that he will be able to make some adjustments to his approach and begin to utilize the left side of the field.
While his movements are smooth and low effort, he lacks much quick-twitch to his actions and it may take more than some minor tinkering to the stroke for him to make enough contact to have the big power play. He has the tools to handle third base better than he has to this point, with a plus arm and average hands, but again the actions have yet to show another gear and that has cut into his ability to consistently make plays.
McMahon was a likely 40/OFP 50 player for BP preseason when they ranked him 10th in the system:
The Good: 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 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: 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.
[Last year McMahon’s] previously smooth left-handed stroke also got loopier and more uphill. He did make adjustments and improved in the second half, learning that he doesn't need to sell out for power because the natural loft in his swing will take care of that for him. There are mixed opinions about his ability to handle quality pitching, though he does have some feel for hitting and some patience to draw walks.
He has the hands and arm and enough athleticism to be at least an average third baseman, but footwork issues have contributed to his 100 errors in 368 games at the hot corner during his first four pro seasons. With Nolan Arenado entrenched at third in Colorado, the Rockies had McMahon divide his time equally between first and third base last year. They also introduced him to second base this season and are pleased with the initial results there.
Here’s some video of McMahon from 2015 courtesy of the Prospect Pipeline:
When's he going to get to the Rockies and how good will he be once he's there?
This year has changed the prospect calculus for McMahon. While he’s blocked from a Major League starting role this year, McMahon could be a September call-up for the stretch run this year as Colorado will need to add him to the 40 man roster after this year anyway. McMahon should seriously contend for the first base starting job next spring and could be an impact player at the position.
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 4th on my PuRPs ballot and received a 55 Future Value as a potential above average MLB regular.
★ ★ ★
Check back tomorrow as we reveal our number one overall PuRP!