Today the Colorado Rockies promoted infielder Ryan McMahon to the major league roster. A year ago he was struggling in Double-A but his ‘17 season has been excellent. Let’s take a quick gander.
McMahon was drafted in the second round back in 2013, from high school in Santa Ana, California. He was considered a first-round talent and the Rockies spent $1,327,600 to keep him from fulfilling his commitment to the University of Southern California.
After a solid .321/.402/.583 debut in the Pioneer League after signing, he hit .282/.358/.502 for Low-A Asheville in 2014 then .300/.372/.520 for High-A Modesto in 2015. Both were undeniably solid campaigns, although there was a bit of caution indicated: Asheville is an extreme hitter’s park and Modesto, while more neutral on its own terms, is still in the high-octane California League. McMahon’s strikeout rate was also quite high and the transition to Double-A in ‘16 would be critical.
That transition did not go easily: he hit .242/.325/.399 last year with significant contact concerns as well as slippage on defense.
Pre-season, McMahon ranked seventh on the Colorado Rockies Top 20 prospects list for 2017 with the following commentary:
7) Ryan McMahon, 3B-1B, Grade B/B-: Age 22, second round pick in 2013, hit .242/.325/.399 with 12 homers, 55 walks, 161 strikeouts in 466 at-bats in Double-A; tough call here, left-handed power that made him so attractive is still here but contact problems were severe last year and defense has been disappointing, enough to move him to first base even without being blocked by Nolan Arenado; on the right day still shows an electric bat and he is young enough to make needed adjustments but parallels to Ian Stewart can’t be ignored. ETA 2018.
There was a big caveat on the disappointing ‘16 season: the entire campaign was played on the road, as the Hartford Yard Goats stadium was not ready on time. The Eastern League isn’t an easy place to hit anyway, so while McMahon’s ‘14 and ‘15 seasons had analytic problems with excessively friendly environments, the ‘16 season had its own very unusual negative circumstance.
McMahon returned to Double-A to open 2017 and raked, hitting .326/.390/.536 in 181 at-bats. Promoted to Triple-A Albuquerque on June 1st, he’s mashed Pacific Coast League pitching at a .375/.409/.625 clip.
On the season he has 37 walks against 82 strikeouts in 429 at-bats, greatly improved compared to the 55/161/466 ratio last year. His walks may be down a tad but he’s making much better contact while driving the ball more effectively.
McMahon is 6-2, 185, a left-handed hitter born December 14th, 1994. Observers who have seen him in both ‘16 and ‘17 report much better confidence this year, with a keener eye, shorter swing, and more of an all-field hitting approach compared to the more pull-oriented philosophy he showed last season.
Any changes he’s made have worked, although a skeptic might point out that the “excessively friendly environment” issue is back in play: the PCL is good for hitting and Albuquerque is particularly so. He’s mashed .427/.457/.718 at home for the Isotopes. His road numbers are still good though not as drool-inducing at .323/.359/.532.
Even his defense has improved this year, with a greatly reduced error rate and cleaner actions at third base. The Rockies have continued to give him innings at first base and he’s also played second base for the first time this season, with viable performance at both positions.
The glove versatility certainly helps his chances but overall the key thing is the bat. It is fair to say that McMahon looks better this year, visually, the reduction in whiffs is real in any environment, and Coors Field will obviously work in his favor.
As with any rookie there could be some struggles, but McMahon has shown he can overcome adversity and make adjustments.