McMahon Turned Adversity into a Strength
SCOTTSDALE, Az. – The late Hal Keller had a very simple philosophy on player development.
“You never know how good a player can be until you see how bad they can be,” Keller would explain. “There’s a lot of failure in baseball. The good players take it as a challenge.”
Rockies prime prospect Ryan McMahon is what Keller would classify as a good player.
The game humbled him, big time, at Double-A Hartford in 2016, and he didn’t flinch. He reaffirmed his high-profile stature as a prospect in 2017, splitting the season between Hartford and Triple-A Colorado Springs.
And this spring he has shown the growth that has him in big-league camp in the last week of spring training, still a factor in the Rockies ultimate decision about who is on first, even after the team re-signed outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, which resulted in a shuffling that has veteran Ian Desmond available at first base.
McMahon, however, has accepted the challenge, and in the final week of the spring the first base position has become the most intriguing in camp.
The discussions have started as to whether the left-handed-hitting McMahon can claim primary playing time at first, which could move Desmond back to left field, and an occasional first baseman, with Gerardo Parra, who moved from right field to left field with the return to Gonzalez, become a fourth outfielder.
Not that McMahon has gotten caught up in the world of what if.
“All I can control is how well I play and not the situations I’m in,” he said without a hesitation. “And I know Jeff (Bridich, general manager) and Bud (Black, manager) are going to make the best decision for what the team needs. I’m happy with how I’ve done and whatever happens from here, either way, I’m pleased with how I came in and what I accomplished.”
What a difference two years make.
McMahon was one of the organization’s prime prospects in the spring of 2016, too, but that summer became the true test of his mental toughness. His fourth year in pro ball, the Rockies second-round draft pick in 2013 out of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Ca., struggled for the first time in sports.
The youngest American player in the Eastern League he had to rally to hit .242. He struck out what remains a pro career high 161 times. His on-base percentage (.325) was where he was used to having his batting average.
“Not to say I was cocky, but I was like, `Yeah. This is going to be easy. I’m going to hit .280, .300 every year with 12 to 20 home runs in the minor leagues and then get called up,’” said McMahon. “Then came a reality check. This game is very humbling. It’s a hard game. It just gets harder and harder as it goes along.
“No now just having good days, I appreciate them more. Having those bad days, I don’t dwell on them. I’m able to move past them. I think it helps me mature as a person honestly.”
It is not, after all, what McMahon ever faced in his youth.
“In little league, high school, you play ball and get your hits and don’t realize (the challenge of struggling),” he said. “It definitely helped me mature.”
It was one of those summers in which even when things would go well it didn’t seem right.
“I would have a hot streak and I could tell something wasn’t right,” he said. “I’d kind of trick myself into getting back into the so-called slump. I hate using that word.”
Truth is that’s the kind of “failure” that helps separate the real players from the pack.
“That’s all part of the process of becoming a big leaguer,” said Black. “By going through all those experiences, it sets you up to be ready when the (big-league opportunity) comes. You know you are going to be ready to take on the challenges.”
McMahon responded to the challenge of 2016.
He returned to Hartford at the start of the 2017 season, and after hitting .326 with a .390 on-base percentage and .536 slugging percentage in 49 games he was promoted to Triple-A Albuquerque and responded by hitting .374 with 14 home runs and 56 RBI in 70 games. HE had a .411 on-base percentage, and .5612 slugging percentage.
And different in 2017 from 2016”
“I showed up and every day was a new day,” he said. “It was more a mindset. Sure, there were physical changes, making sure my bat path was shorter, and taking a more controlled swing. But honestly, in the end, it was more the mindset. Talent only gets you so far.”
McMahon always had the talent.
Now he has the mindset to go with the talent.