DENVER -- Rockies prospect Ryan McMahon knows that what happens during the Hot Stove days of the offseason will at some point have direct bearing on 2018, which is when he's expected to receive his best chance yet to establish himself in a Major League lineup.So close, but so far
DENVER -- Rockies prospect Ryan McMahon knows that what happens during the Hot Stove days of the offseason will at some point have direct bearing on 2018, which is when he's expected to receive his best chance yet to establish himself in a Major League lineup.
So close, but so far away in his mind.
"What's really funny is every year before this year, I would've lied and been like, 'I'm not paying attention to the Winter Meetings, and stuff like that,'" said McMahon, who has spent most of his offseason at the Rockies' complex in Scottsdale, Ariz. "And I was honed in on it.
"But this year, I found myself so busy with my birthday [he turned 23 on Dec. 14] and working out at the field, I haven't been following it that close. I've just been focusing in on what I'm doing."
The performance of McMahon, the Rockies' No. 3 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com, in 2017 at Double-A Hartford and Triple-A Albuquerque and the Rockies' uncertainty at first base make him an intriguing player for 2018.
In 2016, the Rockies gave McMahon a grueling year. Drafted as a third baseman, McMahon played first base for the first time in his career, notching 133 appearances -- 63 starts at first base and 66 at third -- for a Hartford club that had to play all its games on the road. After that year, when he hit .242 with 12 homers, Colorado sent him to instructional ball and the Arizona Fall League.
Just three years after being a second-round pick out of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., McMahon struggled physically -- his 6-foot-2 frame was notably lighter by years's end -- while working through necessary adjustments to his swing. But all that prepared McMahon for his 2017 surge.
McMahon made himself at home in Hartford to start 2017, which had its brand new Dunkin Donuts Park, by hitting .326 with a .926 OPS, six homers and 32 RBIs in 49 games. He was even better at Albuquerque, hitting .374 with a 1.023 OPS, 14 homers and 56 RBIs in 70 games. In addition to his offensive efficiency, McMahon added second base to his defensive repertoire. He made 35 starts at second between Hartford and Albuquerque, as well as three in the Majors.
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McMahon credited Rockies assistant hitting coach Jeff Salazar, who had worked with him in the Minors, and Hartford hitting coach Tim Doherty for keeping his mental approach to the middle of the field at the plate, with the knowledge that he can pull a pitch over the wall. He said Albuquerque manager Glenallen Hill and hitting coach Darin Everson helped him think through situations like a Major League player.
"One thing I'd like to give myself credit for was I was really focused on just winning," said McMahon, who made his Major League debut in August and went 3-for-19 across 17 appearances. "That's a hard thing to do in the Minor Leagues. You're focused on getting up to the big leagues. But I was locked in on playing for the team, and I found I played better when I did that."
Can McMahon unlock Major League playing time?
Ian Desmond was signed last offseason to play first base, but his three trips to the disabled list limited him to 95 total games in 2017. He saw more action in the outfield than at first base after returning because of Mark Reynolds' power surge. The Rockies are talking to Reynolds about a potential return.
Both Desmond and Reynolds are right-handed hitters, which means the left-handed-hitting McMahon could become part of a platoon at first base. But beyond acknowledging they have not approached free-agent left-handed-hitter Adrian Gonzalez, the Rockies' full plan isn't known. Pitching and catching have been focuses during the ofseason for general manager Jeff Bridich.
"Does he have the tools and the talent to be thought of as our starting first baseman? I think so," Bridich said recently of McMahon. "I don't think that'll prevent us from looking at the market and other things to see if we can better our team. That's probably the best way to look at it right now. I know I'm sitting the fence, but we're really excited about him."
Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb and** like his Facebook page**.