clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Rockies prospect Ryan McMahon an Opening Day roster candidate

New, 50 comments

McMahon ranks number 2 on the pre-season 2018 PuRPs list

2. Ryan McMahon (976 points, 34 ballots)

No Rockies prospect did more in 2017 to elevate his stock than Ryan McMahon. The now 23-year-old lefty hitting 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).

Those accolades disappeared after 2016. Playing at Double-A 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 in 2016 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 2017, repeating in Hartford (this time with home games), McMahon was 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. And then he got better.

What McMahon did to Triple A pitching that was on average 4.4 years older maybe put him on a different track altogether. In 314 plate appearances with Albuquerque, McMahon destroyed the Pacific Coast League to the tune of a .374/.411/.612 triple slash with 39 extra base hits, including 14 homers—worth 161 wRC+. The walks are down (6.7%), but you’ll take that when the average is hovering around .375, and the 16.9% strikeout percentage was his career low.

Defensively, in 2017 McMahon split time between 1B (61 games), 2B (36), and 3B (26). He committed only 12 errors, halving the 24 he made in 2016. Scouting reports vary on his utility at these positions, but if he can stick at second or third his value increases even more.

McMahon was rewarded for his sterling 2017 with a September big-league debut in the midst of a play-off race. He wasn’t given much of a chance to play during this cup of coffee, hitting .158/.333/.211 (46 wRC+) in his 24 plate appearance cameo, but we’ll see if the experience of playing on a play-off club pays dividends next year.

Here’s some video of some 2017 McMahon highlights courtesy of MLB.com:

McMahon’s strong 2017 led to his placement at #41 in MLB.com’s top 100, 2nd in the Rockies system. He was given a 55 FV with average or better tools across the board except for his speed:

McMahon’s left-handed swing got too long and too uphill in 2016, but he fixed it last year and recorded the best numbers of his career. He cut his strikeout rate to 18 percent, down from 27 percent in his first four pro seasons, and he let the natural loft in his stroke produce power instead of selling out for home runs. He should hit for average and power while benefiting from Coors Field, though he doesn’t draw many walks.

McMahon has solid arm strength and spent the first three years of his pro career at third base, but he was erratic there and wasn’t going to dislodge Nolan Arenado from the hot corner in Colorado. He saw most of his action at first base in 2016-17 and began playing second base last year. The Rockies liked his initial results at second, though scouts outside the organization question whether he has the quickness to play there regularly.

Keith Law of ESPN.com was even more bullish on McMahon, placing him #31 overall in his top 100 list:

McMahon made some real adjustments to his swing coming into 2017 by getting rid of some loop length he’d developed that the year before while also using the opposite-field gap more frequently.

He is a good enough athlete to handle third base, but he’s not unseating the Rockies’ incumbent there, so he played more first base than anywhere else in 2017 while also starting 35 games at second base, where he’s a work in progress.

The bat should play even at first, where he should be a high-average hitter with plus power and adequate on-base skills. If he manages to become playable on defense at second, he could be a Jeff Kent type of player -- without the motorcycle antics.

Baseball Prospectus ranked McMahon 3rd in Colorado’s system with a 55 OFP and 50 Likely role tag. Here’s Jeffrey Paternostro on McMahon:

The Good: After scuffling in his first taste of Double-A in 2016, McMahon adjusted and broke out this year. When he was struggling last summer, he’d drop his back shoulder and try to pull everything out. He got more comfortable using all fields in 2017, letting his plus power play to the opposite field gap as much as the right field bleachers. He has more than enough bat speed to turn on premium velocity and is a potential 20-home-run bat even before you factor in the Coors Field altitude. He’s splitting his time at three infield positions now, but he’s still a solid third baseman with a good first step, soft hands, and an above-average arm.

The Bad: While McMahon was better at using the whole field in 2017, I still have concerns that there’s going to be a lot of swing-and-miss here against major-league arms. He struggles to stay with offspeed stuff—especially against lefties—and the swing really only has one gear. That may limit his ability to consistently get his plus pop into games. He’s played more first due to the existence of Nolan Arenado, and while I won’t say it’s been “incredibly hard” for him, it’s been a rough transition. He struggled with his footwork around the bag especially. He’s athletic enough to handle the keystone, but best-suited to be more of a once-a-week option there.

The Risks: Low. Even accounting for the lefty launching pads he played in, McMahon clearly conquered the upper minors in 2017. While it’s not impossible his issues with spin and same-side arms take a large enough bite out of his offensive performance to make him a bench piece, he’ll be a major leaguer for a while.

Finally, Baseball America ranked McMahon 63rd overall (2nd in the system) and labeled him the best athlete in the system.

The bottom line is that McMahon figured something out in a big way and has become a fearsome hitter with 1B/2B/3B flexibility. It’s a delightful development for Rockies fans and it’s put McMahon back in the spotlight for national writers. McMahon was 3rd on my PuRPs ballot and received a 55 Future Value as a potential above average MLB regular. He enters the 2018 season as a strong contender for playing time as the strong side of a first base platoon for Colorado and is, as of now, a likely candidate for the Opening Day roster.