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Colorado Rockies prospects: No. 9, Chris McMahon

The 23-year-old right-hander has a high floor and performed pretty well in his first professional season

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9. Chris McMahon (415 points, 20 ballots)

Chris McMahon was commonly brought up as an option for the Rockies in the time leading up to the 2020 draft due to his low fastball-heavy approach and athleticism on the mound, as well as his mid-rotation upside as a likely starting pitcher as a pro. McMahon got experience pitching for Team USA’s National Collegiate team and had a very strong start to his abbreviated junior season for the University of Miami in 2020, throwing 25 2⁄3 innings across four starts with a sterling 1.05 ERA and a 38:5 K/BB ratio.

The Rockies drafted McMahon 46th overall in 2020 and gave him a slightly over-slot $1.637M bonus. McMahon didn’t see any formal professional action until fall instructs. There, former Rockies AGM of Player Development Zach Wilson said this about McMahon in MLB.com’s fall instructs review:

He has tremendous strike-throwing ability. He has advanced command of his fastball, with everything at the kneecaps, and he mixes in a quality changeup and slider.

Given the advanced command profile, it wasn’t a surprise that McMahon was assigned directly to High-A Spokane to begin his professional career in 2021. Against players who were on average 1.2 years older, the now-23-year-old righty held his own in 22 appearances (20 starts) with Spokane. In 114 1⁄3 innings, McMahon posted a 4.17 ERA (4.56 xFIP) with a 1.32 WHIP and 9.4 K/9 rate against a 2.5 BB/9 rate. His season was highlighted by an August in which four of his five outings were quality starts.

Here’s some video of McMahon courtesy of Perfect Game Baseball from February 2020 with front and side views of his delivery:

MLB.com, who had McMahon 29th on their overall 2020 draft list, ranks McMahon 13th in the system as a 45 FV player:

The right-hander has a solid three-pitch mix with a very good idea of how to use his entire repertoire. He pitches to both sides of the plate very well, starting with a fastball that sits low-90s and touches a bit higher, thrown with good late action down in the zone. His changeup is an above-average pitch that he throws with good deception and arm speed, missing bats and getting ground-ball contact with it. His breaking ball can be a bit of a hybrid/slurve type of a pitch, but it’s trending in the right direction towards more of a tight slider.

While McMahon can throw strikes and can keep hitters off-balance by mixing his pitches and tunneling his secondary stuff off his fastball well, he still needs to work on his command within the zone. His fastball can flatten out at times, causing him to get hit, but he has the pitching IQ to reach his ceiling as a No. 4-type starter.

Highlighting the evaluation is a 55 grade on the fastball, changeup, and control.

Fangraphs ranked McMahon 49th overall in their 2020 draft list and then ranked him 14th in the system as a 40 FV player in January:

McMahon was a notable prospect in high school following his pre-draft summer, when he was sitting in the low-90s with a good slider. His stuff didn’t spike during his senior year, so he ended up at Miami, where it did. He was consistently touching 96 or 97 mph during his 2019 and ’20 outings with the Hurricanes, and averaged 92.5 mph both years. He sat about a tick below that on average during his 2021 pro debut, while throwing many more innings than ever before across about 20 starts. McMahon’s fastball has tail and sink, and its movement mimics a still-improving changeup, while his slider remains his go-to finishing pitch. For how violent his delivery is, McMahon fills the zone with his fastball and is pretty good at locating his slider consistently to his glove side, although not always in a precise, enticing location. He often appears to be “underneath” his changeup and creates lateral action on it but inconsistent dive, though sometimes he actually gets impact dive on the change when he releases it late and it ends up glove-side. He’s had some injury issues (knee tendinitis in 2018, shoulder soreness in ’19) but McMahon has No. 4/5 starter stuff with a chance for more if the changeup keeps coming.

Keith Law of the Athletic also ranked McMahon 14th in his February system rankings:

McMahon is a four-pitch guy with an above-average changeup and maybe an above-average slider, throwing strikes with a delivery that should get him to average command. He hasn’t found a putaway pitch yet, which would give him more than a fourth starter ceiling.

Baseball Prospectus listed McMahon as a Factor on the Farm in their November system write-up:

Perhaps it’s a bit of a stretch to call McMahon a Factor on the Farm when he spent all of 2021 in Spokane, but he is the kind of polished college arm that could move quickly now that he has a full, normalish season under his belt. However, if we were more confident in the stuff playing at higher levels (and the majors), he’d be a top 10 prospect in a still-very-shallow Rockies system. His fastball was down a couple ticks as a pro, more low-90s than the mid-90s he showed in college. There’s sink on the fastball, a good changeup with sink, and a slider that flashes average depth, but is inconsistent. McMahon keeps the ball down and commands everything well enough. There’s backend starter potential in relatively short order here, but the Rockies have struggled to develop this kind of arm recently and I don’t know that you can simply blame the home park.

Kiley McDaniel of ESPN.com ranked McMahon 13th in the system as a 40+ FV prospect last month:

McMahon has been a bit up-and-down since his high school underclass days. He throws a tailing sinker 91-93 mph but was more 93-95 mph when at his best in college at Miami (Fla.). His slider, changeup and feel all flash above average at times, but it’s trending more like No. 4 or No. 5 starter now than it was at draft time.

McMahon seems likely to remain in the starting rotation with mid-rotation upside who could be on a big league mound within two years. However, the above scouting reports are casting that upside into doubt based on a slight down-tick in McMahon’s stuff compared with his draft year, a worry some had when he was drafted given the limited track record McMahon had of showing that stuff. On the other hand, McMahon has a high floor and performed pretty well in his first professional season.

McMahon has yet to be assigned to an affiliate for the 2022 season, but it’s a good bet we’ll see him in Double-A soon enough given the advanced approach and strike-throwing. McMahon’s upside he showed in college, combined with the starting role and floor he presents, led me to rank McMahon 11th on my list with a 45 FV grade.