Ryan McMahon, the best prospect nobody knows about

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Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas (USA Today Sports)

With the trade deadline looming on July 31st, followed by MLB roster expansion one month thereafter, there is a lot of prospect scuttlebutt permeating the baseball mediasphere. Contending teams will inevitably deal prospects for help on the MLB roster, while the teams who are out of the race will call up prospects from the minors to replace recently departed MLB talent. In particular, a lot of commotion has been made of Boston third baseman Rafael Devers, White Sox second basemen Yoan Moncada, Houston outfielder Derek Fisher and Rays pitcher Brent Honeywell, among others. The aforementioned are all likely to find themselves in different locales in two to three weeks time, either via MLB promotion or trade.

prospect comp

Ryan McMahon’s (gold) google popularity compared to Rafael Devers (blue) and Yoan Moncada (red).

However, one prospect who receives surprisingly little fanfare is Colorado Rockies third baseman Ryan McMahon. McMahon, 22 years old, began the season with the AA Hartford Yard Goats and mashed to the tune of .326 average and .536 slugging percentage before earning a promotion to AAA Albuquerque on June 1st. Since then McMahon has doubled down on his performance, cruising to a .667 slugging rate and earning the June Pacific Coast League Player of the Month award. But despite putting up arguably the best season of any prospect in the minors, mum’s the word on McMahon from a majority of baseball outlets. Let’s fill that gap and get to know him.

Minor league track record

mcmahon minors

McMahon, hailing from Yorba Linda, California (a posh suburb northeast of Anaheim), was drafted by the Rockies out of high school in the second round of the 2013 entry draft. After a brief stint in rookie ball, McMahon made his professional debut in 2014 and acquitted himself well, with a .282 / .358 / .502 triple slash line and 18 home runs over 552 plate appearances in A ball. In addition to the home runs, McMahon added 46 doubles, which was second in the South Atlantic League.

2014’s strong performance elevated McMahon’s prospect stock, earning him a place on Baseball Prospectus’ Top 101 Prospects as well as a promotion to the high-A Modesto Nuts heading into the 2015 season. McMahon displayed many of the same skills in high-A, with an outrageous amount of extra-base hits, a strong batting average and once again 18 home runs. McMahon also led the high-A California league in doubles with 43.

After two straight years of minor league ball mashing McMahon was beginning to make a name for himself. He ascended from #100 to #36 on Baseball Prospectus’ 2016 list and seemed poised to grab the bull by the horns in AA. However, McMahon struggled with the adjustment to AA pitching and posted significantly weaker numbers across the board, including a sub-.400 slugging percentage. Strikeouts, which were an issue for McMahon in 2014 (25.9% rate) and 2015 (27.5% rate), moved from a minor annoyance to a dramatic hindrance in AA, with his 30.1% strikeout rate the third highest in the Eastern League.

A banner 2017

mcmhamon 2017With a lot to prove after a down 2016, McMahon started 2017 on the wrong foot, with a putrid spring training where he amassed a meager single in 12 at bats. McMahon was promptly assigned to AA for the start of the season.

Since then he hasn’t looked back. Through 205 plate appearances with Hartford, McMahon smacked six home runs, two triples and 16 doubles, giving him an elite 13.3% extra-base hits per at bat ratio. McMahon’s .326 average was good for 99th percentile in the league, while his .536 slugging percentage ranked at 93rd percentile.

After a June 1st promotion to AAA Albuquerque McMahon continued to rake, with an absurd .390 / .415 / .667 triple slash line in 171 plate appearances. While the Pacific Coast League certainly favors offense, McMahon’s 99th percentile showing in average, slugging percentage and XBH/AB capture the relative dominance of his play.

McMahon won PCL Player of the Month in June with 14 doubles, seven home runs and a .427 average. His July hasn’t been quite as dominant, however he’s still capturing a .500 slugging percentage in the 10 games through July 17th.

Based on his unfettered dominance in two different leagues in very different locales and run scoring environments, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that the 22-year McMahon has been the best hitting prospect in baseball this season.

A call-up looming? And positional versatility

McMahon’s high draft status, placement on two Baseball Prospectus top prospect lists and terrific 2014, 2015 and 2017 performance should earn him far more recognition than he’s currently getting. But the fact that he plays in a smallish market in Colorado hurts his prospect status. McMahon is also likely overshadowed by the quality players dotting the Rockies’ current infield, including third basemen Nolan Arenado, second baseman DJ LeMahieu and first baseman Mark Reynolds.

Perhaps sensing the inevitably of this issue, Colorado has moved McMahon around the diamond this season. Combined between AA and AAA, he’s accrued 46 games at first base, 25 games at second and 21 games at third. Even if he doesn’t start everyday, McMahon would be able to secure at bats with the Rockies by moving around the diamond and spelling different players.

Colorado also shouldn’t fool themselves regarding their current offense. The have the worst wRC+ in the MLB. And while Arenado is firmly entrenched at third, and LeMahieu at second despite swinging a wet noodle in 2017, Mark Reynolds has struck out 34.0% of the time and possesses a 90 wRC+ over the last month. The left-swinging McMahon could form an immediate platoon with the righty Reynolds. Or Colorado could deal Reynolds while he still has some value and run with a McMahon/Desmond platoon for the rest of the season. Or simply give the job to McMahon outright.

Whatever they do, the Rockies, who are looking to upgrade their squad at the deadline, should not trade McMahon. He should be a piece key cog to their playoff run rather than a part used to acquire an overpriced veteran.

One comment

  1. […] in AAA this season ranks 7th among PCL players under the  age of 25 (sidebar: Ryan McMahon, previously discussed on FunGraphs, is pretty freaking  good), with Calhoun slotting as the second youngest player in […]

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