Pipeline Perspectives: McMahon best hitter not on Top 100
Rockies third-base prospect is the leading position player not on list
There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye to eye. They discuss their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.
There are few tasks at MLBPipeline.com that are more fun than putting together the Top 100 Prospects list. Breaking down tools, figuring out how phenoms stack up against one another and soliciting industry feedback makes for good times.
There are also few tasks at MLBPipeline.com that are more frustrating. One hundred spots simply aren't enough to include every prospect we like, and we've surely omitted some future All-Stars. Maybe even a future MVP Award Winner or Cy Young Award winner as well. (Corey Kluber, anyone?)
So when this week's Pipeline Perspective charged us with identifying the best position player left off the Top 100, it wasn't difficult to come up with a name. Jonathan Mayo and I both chose young third basemen who starred at quarterback for California private schools before signing for seven-figure bonuses. Jonathan tabbed the Braves' Rio Ruiz, while I'm a big believer in the Rockies' Ryan McMahon.
McMahon played two sports at Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, Calif., which is alternately known as Quarterback High after producing Heisman Trophy winners John Huarte and Matt Leinart as well as all-Americans Colt Brennan and Matt Barkley. That made him a natural for Colorado, which has drafted quarterbacks such as Todd Helton, Matt Holliday, Kyle Parker, Seth Smith, Michael Vick and Russell Wilson. McMahon knew his future was in baseball, and he turned pro when the Rockies spent a second-round pick and a $1,327,600 bonus on him in the 2013 Draft.
So far, so good. McMahon has batted .294/.372/.527 in pro ball, and while he has benefitted from playing in excellent hitting environments, his bat is legitimate. He earned South Atlantic League All-Star recognition when he made his full-season debut in 2014, leading the low Class A circuit in RBIs (102) and ranking second in runs (93), doubles (46) and extra-base hits (67) as a 19-year-old.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound McMahon has all the tools necessary to hit for power and average. He generates bat speed and loft with an effortless left-handed swing, giving him power to all fields that should show up more in games as he adds strength and experience. McMahon also understands the value of a walk, which should help him produce healthy on-base percentages.
McMahon still has work to do at the plate, which is to be expected from a player who just turned 20 in December. He can look helpless at times against breaking balls, contributing to his .220/.302/.353 performance against left-handers in 2014. McMahon needs to make more contact (after fanning 143 times in 552 plate appearance last year) and to get more consistent with his approach.
More than just a promising hitter, McMahon also projects as an asset at the hot corner. In a Baseball America survey, managers rated him the top defensive third baseman in the Sally League. McMahon moves well and has soft hands to go with a strong arm, though he's still ironing out his footwork.
The biggest obstacle to McMahon becoming Colorado's third baseman is out of his control. It's Nolan Arenado, who recorded similar SAL numbers to McMahon's at the same age four years earlier and has won Gold Gloves in each of his two Major League seasons.
McMahon won't be big league ready before 2017, so Arenado's presence in Coors Field won't become an issue before then. Arenado is the superior defender, though McMahon should provide enough offense to profile well on an outfield corner if necessary.
McMahon will advance to the high Class A California League, another hitter-friendly setting and the site of Arenado's breakout as a prospect in 2011, when he led the Minors with 122 RBIs. If McMahon likewise takes a step forward at Modesto, the question won't be why we left him off the MLBPipeline.com Top 100. It will be how high can he rise on the list.