In full rebuild mode after posting another division-worst record, the Colorado Rockies seem a ways away from reaching the postseason. Still, even though the major league Rockies took a step back in 2015, there was at least one player in their system that took a huge step forward and offers tantalizing hope for a more successful future in Denver. Ryan McMahon, a hot 20-year-old third base prospect coming off a monster season in Single-A, is worth a closer look as his potential approaches stardom.
Ryan’s beautiful swing is the strongest asset of his game. McMahon’s stroke is simple. He keeps his hands at a high level the entire swing. This allows McMahon to generate a stroke extremely conducive to line drives. MLBFarm reports that over 24% of McMahon’s balls in play this year were liners, and only 1.78% were popups, so this kid certainly knows how to square up a baseball. Mechanically, Ryan begins with a simple weight transfer, plants his front foot down, and then throws his long arms and hips into his swing.
It should be noted that the weight transfer I am referring to is very minimal. McMahon does not take a full load, but rather uses a quick rock to generate momentum. Perhaps such a small load is best; the lack of peripheral motion in McMahon’s swing lets the youngster take a quick, direct path to the ball and then generate good extension with his long limbs. He is very adept at keeping his shoulder in and staying inside the baseball. Further aiding his baseball skills are top tools. McMahon has elite bat-speed and hand-quickness that is extremely rare in young hitters.
Probably the weakest aspect of McMahon’s overall game is his approach at the plate. Besides the simple struggle to hit breaking pitches that nearly all young hitters experience, McMahon does not seem to understand which parts of the strike zone he can attack and where he needs to hit the ball in the zone to succeed. For instance, in many clips I watched, Ryan makes contact with a low and outside pitch in front of the plate, as opposed to waiting for it and taking it the other way. This usually results in a weak ground ball to first base.
In this case, at least, I think McMahon might be a victim of his own talent and aggressiveness. He is very assertive at the plate, likes to swing, and has such a quick stroke that it is hard for him to stay behind the ball. Ryan did strike out 153 times in 132 games last season, so his plate approach is certainly an area to improve on. However, we have to remember that McMahon is only twenty years old. Right now, he is able to go into a minor league batter’s box, swing aggressively and frequently, and produce good numbers.
As he gets older and his approach becomes more polished, I bet we will see a reduction in strikeout numbers due to the simple elegance of his swing. Plus, it is not like McMahon cannot work a walk; he owns a very respectable .372 on-base-percentage during his minor league career.
It is a huge testament to McMahon’s naturally strength and athleticism that he produced 61 extra-base-hits last year.. His swing has decent loft due to his high hand position and upright, tall stance, however, he is mainly a line drive hitter. As I mentioned before, right now a lot of McMahon’s power comes from his quick hands and superb bat-speed.
He is extremely athletic as well, having played quarterback in high school, and packs a lot of natural strength in his 6-2, 185 frame. I think, as McMahon grows more and more into his body, he should be able to hit 25 home runs over a full major league season. He also could be a perennial 40 doubles guy, considering the thin air of Coors field.
Defensively, McMahon projects to be average to above-average third baseman at maturity. He certainly is not Nolan Arenado on that side of the diamond, but he has good range to his left, can smoothly field ground balls, and has the arm strength for the hot corner. I think Ryan will benefit from a few more years of defensive seasoning in the minors; right now, some of his motions are a bit clunky. McMahon’s excellent footwork is a huge reason he has above-average defensive potential.
Ultimately, I see McMahon carving out a nice career as an above-average third baseman with a few all-star appearances to his credit. Of course, he may have to move positions once he reaches the big leagues, with Arenado already having a stronghold on third base, but I still think that McMahon’s athleticism will allow him to be a solid second baseman, left fielder, or even right fielder if necessary.
Ryan’s swing seems tailor-made for Coors field. He has the ability to generate a ton of line drives, and his tall build grants his swing enough loft to take advantage of the light air in Colorado. The 20-year-old’s plate approach, while concerning, should improve with time as he acquires a deeper understanding of the game, his strengths, and his limitations.
Expect McMahon to frequent the top of Rockies prospect lists and potentially even crack some top 50 rankings. He has all the talent, athleticism, and baseball skills necessary to be star. And I would not be surprised if the native Californian posted a .300+ average, 25+ home runs, 40+ doubles, and a .370+ on base percentage during one of his peak seasons.