MLB.com Columnist

Jim Callis

What to expect from Rockies' McMahon in big leagues

What to expect from Rockies' McMahon in big leagues

Neither the Rockies nor Ryan McMahon enjoyed much about 2016. While Colorado's 75 wins were its most since 2010, it still endured its sixth consecutive losing season. After hitting .297/.372/.524 in his first three pro seasons, McMahon plummeted to .242/.325/.399 in Double-A.

Both parties are finding 2017 much more to their liking. The Rockies' current .570 winning percentage is the best in franchise history and gives them a 6 1/2-game edge in the National League Wild Card race. McMahon conquered Double-A in his second attempt, earned a promotion to Triple-A in June and is batting .354/.401/.587 between the two stops.

McMahon's year got even better on Friday, when Colorado summoned him to the big leagues for the first time. He didn't start in Friday's game against the Marlins, but he provides insurance at first base behind Mark Reynolds, who hurt his left hand making a tag on Tuesday. Manager Bud Black indicated McMahon will start occasionally at first base and also provide depth at second and third base, where he has played in the Minors.

McMahon, 22, signed for $1,327,600 as a 2013 second-round pick out of Mater Dei High (Santa Ana, Calif.). Mater Dei is known as "Quarterback High" after spawning Heisman Trophy winners John Huarte and Matt Leinart and college stars Colt Brennan and Matt Barkley, and McMahon played quarterback there as well. He gave up football to join the Rockies, who have drafted several former QBs such as Todd Helton, Matt Holliday, Seth Smith, Michael Vick and Russell Wilson.

After establishing himself as one of the better third-base prospects in baseball during his first three years in the Minors, McMahon didn't look like the same hitter in 2016. Learning to play first base for the first time didn't help, nor did having to deal with a season-long road trip because of ballpark construction woes in Hartford, but his previously smooth left-handed swing also got loopier and more uphill. He started to make adjustments and improved in the second half of the season, but he actually posted worse numbers in the Arizona Fall League during the offseason and left scouts there wondering how he'd fare against quality pitching.

McMahon has eased those concerns this year. Now that he understands that the natural loft in his swing will produce power, he realizes he doesn't have to sell out for homers, so he has shortened his stroke and done a better job of using the entire field. He has reduced his strikeout rate to a career-best 17 percent while topping the Minors in hits (152), ranking third in extra-base hits (59) and total bases (252) and placing fifth in batting, doubles (37), RBI (82) and OPS (.988).

Hitter-friendly home ballparks have helped McMahon for much of his Minor League career, and Coors Field will do the same in the big leagues. He still has to solve left-handers, who have held him to a .663 OPS this year (compared to his 1.074 OPS versus righties), but youth is on his side. He projects as an eventual .270 hitter with 20 homers on an annual basis in Colorado.

Reynolds is playing on a one-year contract, so McMahon could take over the starting first-base job as early as next season. Though he has the hands, arm and athleticism to play at least an average third base, inconsistent footwork has led to 101 errors in 393 games at the hot corner in the Minors. He wasn't going to unseat Nolan Arenado with the Rockies anyway.

Colorado introduced McMahon to second base this season and has liked what he has shown there so far. He's not as quick as a typical second baseman and still needs work on turning the double play.

Both the Rockies and McMahon have bounced back better than could have been expected in 2017. And it looks like better things await both in the future.

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.