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Ryan McMahon’s extension locks him into third base for the next few seasons

“RyMac” looks to find consistency at the hot corner for the Rockies

Ryan McMahon’s 2021 was a tale of two players: a scorching first half followed by a middling last few months. After committing to the Rockies long-term, he looks to be their best immediate option to fill the void left by the, uh, Cardinals’ third baseman. The question will be which “RyMac” will emerge in 2022 — will it be the slugging power threat that led the team at the start of last season and just barely missed out on an All-Star bid, or will it be the middle-of-the-road player that cooled off so sharply at the end of the season?

After McMahon, the Rockies actually have pretty solid depth options. Made up of a varying group of players — some returning faces, some prospects on the come-up, and a newly-arrived superstar — there are options manager Bud Black may choose to utilize should RyMac falter.

The Starter

Through July, Ryan McMahon was the Rockies’ most consistent bat. Getting off to a strong start in April by way of mashing eight home runs, he was the bright spot on a team that struggled mightily on the offensive end. The 27-year-old clubbed 16 long balls before the All-Star break, and was starting to really come into his own as a threat in the Colorado lineup. Unfortunately, July’s heat seemed to sap the power from MacMahon’s bat, as he hit just one home run that month and seven total after the All-Star festivities. His average was up-and-down as well, owing to the dreaded Coors Field effect. His splits tell the story; compare his home (.278/.343/.487) versus road (.227/.317/.406). If McMahon wants to become the top-flight player we want him to be, finding consistency with the bat will be paramount.

You know what was consistent, though? His glove. A Gold Glove finalist for a reason, McMahon’s defense was absolutely tremendous all season. He held down the keystone just fine, but third base is where he clearly feels at home, as he posted 12 DRS in 2021 (which, not for nothing, is double Nolan Arenado’s total). There’s no reason to think that McMahon’s defensive abilities will regress this coming season, so we’re liable to see some more great plays like these:

The Backup

Garrett Hampson can play basically anywhere, but he’s likely to be utilized more in the outfield or middle infield. With the newly-signed Kris Bryant set to predominantly patrol left field, the likely backup at third base is Colton Welker. Welker, last season’s No. 5 PuRP, appeared in 19 games in 2021 and slashed .189/.250/.466 with a double and two RBI. A long-awaited and highly-touted prospect, the 24-year-old will try to gain more experience at the big league level and cement his status as a key feature of the Rockies’ future. Welker won the 2021 Abby Greer Award... could this season be his first taste of success in the Show?

Depth Options

The most obvious answer is Bryant, who has logged over 5500 innings at third over his seven seasons in the majors. The Rockies have said that they plan on keeping Bryant in the outfield (specifically in left), but with so many outfielders waiting in the wings it may not be the worst idea for him to hold down the hot corner should McMahon and Welker struggle. It remains to be seen how open to this idea the coaching staff is, but it’s certainly an option.

However, Hampson could also be an option at third if necessary. He did play two games at the hot corner last season and converted all three of his chances, so that’s something. He’s probably better suited to, well, any other position. Hampson’s speed is unmatched and he’s got a good eye, but he doesn’t profile as a prototypical third baseman, and fans should look for him to get time there only if all other options are exhausted.

On the Farm

Elehuris Montero (last mid-season’s No. 5 PuRP and current No. 4 prospect via MLB) is chomping at the bit for an opportunity with the Rockies. He spent most of his time last season (92 games) with the Hartford Yard Goats before being brought up to the Albuquerque Isotopes to finish out the season, impressing in both opportunities as he slashed .279/.362/.523 in Double-A and .278/.355/.546 in Triple-A. As he continues developing, he’ll more than likely spend most of this season in Triple-A, though he’s probably on speed dial if injuries or trades affect the major league roster’s depth.

Aaron Schunk (No. 24 PuRP) and Warming Bernabel (last mid-season’s No. 29 PuRP) are also getting looks this spring. Schunk struggled with the bat a bit for High-A Spokane last season, and split his time pretty evenly between second and third base. It’s yet to be seen what direction the Rockies would like him to go in the future, and at 23 years of age he’s got time to figure it out. Bernabel, meanwhile, is in just his third year as a professional, having played in Dominican Summer League and Low-A ball to this point. He absolutely raked for the ACL Rockies but was pretty quickly humbled upon his arrival in Low-A, and he’s not likely to appear in the big leagues for at least the next couple seasons.

In Case of Disaster

If nothing else, the Rockies have a pretty hefty amount of depth at the major league level. If all goes well, McMahon can continue to mature and become the All-Star he almost was last season, and if not then Welker and Bryant wait in the wings. If all those fail... I mean... Joe Panik is available?