At the end of 2018 the Rockies lost DJ LeMahieu to free agency which ultimately ended with him singing with the New York Yankees as a utility man in January for two years and $24 million — the second of a seemingly constant stream of former Rockies to join the Bronx Bombers. At the time, losing LeMahieu was more or less accepted as something that the Rockies needed to do to get younger and better. It wasn’t until after LeMahieu began tearing it up in the Big Apple that Rockies fans began to really lament the loss.
However, lost in the scuffle (again) was Ryan McMahon — the Rockies 2013 second rounder. After spending time bouncing around the infield, the departure of LeMahieu opened the door for McMahon to win the second base job in 2019 — which he did handily — and he seems poised to be the starting second baseman for the second year in a row.
Ryan McMahon seems to have finally found positional stability for the foreseeable future and will be the Rockies Opening Day second baseman for the second year in a row. 2019 was the first year that McMahon played second base full-time and he put up really good numbers on both sides of the ball. Manager Bud Black agreed.
“We gave him the repetitions in the minor leagues,” Black told the media on February 23. “He got a ton of reps in Spring Training the last number of years. Big league games, minor league games, it was coming. He played a lot, I think he played a lot in Double-A. I’d have to look it back up. We felt to the point where he had enough and just his natural ability, his natural athleticism, and his baseball instinct was that he was going to make the transition. And he was good!”
Offensively, he hit a career high .250/.329/.450 in 141 games. He also hit 24 home runs, ranking him fourth on the roster behind perennial Rockies slugging leaders Nolan Arenado, Trevor Story, and Charlie Blackmon. McMahon lost some time early due to injury (while playing first base, ironically) but came back swinging. Defensively, he got much better as the year went on. He committed 13 errors but comparatively, Nolan Arenado committed nine and Trevor Story committed eight. In 2018, Arenado committed 14 and Story committed 13 and they are considered the best in baseball at their positions.
The good news still is that McMahon can only get better in his second year as a full-time second baseman.
“One of the toughest plays to make is like the chopper, sort of over the mound on the right side of the second baseman and he came, charged that ball, barehand, bullet. He made it. The charging play, the play to his right which requires arm strength — I mean, he made some really good plays,” Black said of McMahon’s defensive improvements. “The arm strength to turn a double play was in there, I think he’s gonna continue to get better with his footwork. Just the feel around the bag, turning double plays. I’m excited to really watch him play. I think he’s gonna be a really good defenseman.”
Will the newfound stability help McMahon take an even bigger leap in 2020?
“Well, he sorta had that last year and I think we saw the next step,” Black said. “I think it’s going to continue. There’s some upside with Mac for sure. I think we’ll continue to see that. I think it depends on if you’re looking for offensive or you’re looking for defensive. I think he’s wired such that no matter where he plays he’s gonna defend, whether it’s first, second, or third. He’s gonna defend because I think he’s a natural defender — he takes pride in his defense — but it sets up for him to take a lot of reps, a lot of games at second base.”
There you go, folks: Ryan McMahon, Rockies Opening Day second baseman 2020.
Garrett Hampson is currently listed as the backup second baseman on the Rockies depth chart. Hampson has been used in more of a utility role since he made his debut in July 2018, playing mostly middle infield but also getting playing time in center field. He started on the Opening Day roster but was shuffled back and forth along I-25 for most of the season before sticking on in late June. Hampson had an OK showing for most of the season, not hitting for much power but showing plenty of speed when he got on base. It wasn’t until September that things seemed to really click for him — he hit .318/.368/.534 with five home runs in 24 September games. Prior to September, he hit .218/.274/.322 with just three home runs combined. Hampson has the makings of a good utility man, especially if he is able to carry the September momentum into 2020.
Brendan Rodgers (No. 1 PuRP) is also an option if things go awry. Rodgers bounced between Triple-A Albuquerque and the major leagues a little bit last year but was limited to just 25 games in the majors. In those 25 games, he hit .224/.272/.250. Not great for a top prospect. He hit .350/.413/.622 with nine home runs in 37 games in Albuquerque. To be fair, he was limited by shoulder pain which resulted in season-ending labrum surgery on July 16, 2019. Rodgers is still rehabbing from that injury and is eyeing a designated hitter spot by March 3, reports Thomas Harding. As far as full game action goes, Rodgers is expected to return sometime in May and will hopefully have a better showing in future games.
The Rockies signed Chris Owings to a one year minor league deal worth $1,000,000. Rockies fans probably know Owings best from his time with the Arizona Diamondbacks from 2013-2018, but he also spent time with the Kansas City Royals and Boston Red Sox in 2019. Owings is similar to Hampson in the sense of being used primarily as an infield/outfield utility man. He was drafted and developed as a middle infielder, but made the transition to the outfield — more specifically center field — in 2016 after A.J. Pollock broke his elbow two nights before the season started.
Owings is a career .241/.284/.365 hitter with only 34 career home runs. However, he is quick on the bases and has 75 stolen bases in 90 attempts. He recorded double digit steals in each season from 2015-2018. Now, Owings will turn 29 in August so he’s not exactly old but he would probably fall into a “veteran utility presence off the bench” if he makes the 40-man roster out of camp.
On the farm
The Rockies don’t have a lot of middle infield prospects who are major league ready. Ryan Vilade (No. 4 PuRP) might be the closest, but he is 21-years-old and likely to start in Double-A this year. He was named a MiLB.com Organization All-Star and also a California League Post-Season All-Star after leading the league with 327 total bases and ranking in the top 10 in triples, runs scored, hits, extra-base hits, batting average, doubles, RBI, and stolen bases. In August, he was named Player of the Month after batting .368 with four doubles, two triples, seven home runs, 18 RBI, and eight stolen bases. Not bad accolades for a player in his second full season.
Terrin Vavra (No. 7 PuRP) is another name to keep an eye on, but he is further away than Vilade. Vavra was drafted in the third round of the 2018 draft and spent his first full season in Asheville last year. He hit .318/.409/.489 with 43 extra-base hits last year. Much like Vilade, Vavra (apart from having a super cool name) racked up some accolades in 2019. He was named an MiLB.com Organization All-Star, a South Atlantic League Mid-Season and Post-Season All-Star, and also the South Atlantic League Most Valuable Player. The most amazing part of that is he missed the final four weeks of the season. He is currently slated to start in Lancaster in 2020, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he moved up quickly.
Both of these prospects definitely have a lot of upside and will be ones to keep an eye on in 2020 on the minor league side, but the downside is mostly that they were both drafted as shortstops and have been spending the majority of their time there. To be fair, so were Brendan Rodgers and Garrett Hampson. Either way, neither of these guys are quite ready to step up unless absolutely necessary.
If Disaster Strikes
Absolute worst case scenario, the Rockies could slide Daniel Murphy back over to second base. Murphy was the primary second baseman for the Washington Nationals in 2016 and 2017 and earned All-Star nods in both years. Now, if there was such a need for him to play backup to the backup backup second baseman, then there would be an even bigger hole at first that would need to be filled. So here’s hoping that doesn’t happen.