McMahon Makes His Case; Makes Rockies Opening Day Roster
Ryan McMahon was taking no chances.
As he walked into manager Bud Black’s office the morning of the final game of spring, Black asked McMahon if he knew why he had been summoned for the one-on-one session.
McMahon had an idea, but he wasn’t saying.
“I was trying to play cool and let him tell me,” McMahon said. “It could have gone either way. When he started to say congratulations (you have made the team) I had a big grin on my face. It was fun.”
The 23-year-old has come a long ways in the last two years. After struggling for the first time at Double-A Hartford in 2016, he put together an impact season between Hartford and Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2017. This spring McMahon reinforced his status with the Rockies.
He arrived at the Rockies spring training headquarters in Scottsdale on a mission, and on Wednesday the mission was accomplished. He will be in uniform for the Rockies season-opener against the Diamondbacks at Chase Field on Thursday night.
“I came in to show what I am all about,” he said. “I came in to show them I was here to work and play hard.”
A converted third baseman, he played a few games at his natural position, made an appearance at second base, where he worked for the first time last summer in the minor leagues, and got the bulk of his time at first base. He never wobbled.
He hit .329 during the spring, fourth best among players on the season-opening roster. DJ LeMahieu and Trevor Story both hit .370, and fellow rookie Mike Tauchman hit .333.
“From the start, you could tell Mac had a very good winter,” said Black. “Physically he was in very good shape. He spent most of the winter down here in Scottsdale and most of the winter at our complex working both in the weight room and the (hitting) cage. I think it showed. The early part of spring the bat speed was there.”
But there was more.
“Defense is what impressed with me more than anything,” said Black. “He looked comfortable at first base. The way he moved around the clubhouse. He was more confident than I saw last year. He is a much more confident and mature player.”
He showed the mental strength that allowed him to bounce back from the struggles of 2016 to making his big-league debut in August of 2017.
McMahon hit .242 and had 161 strikeouts in 466 at-bats in 2016. Last year, he was named MLib.com Fan’s Choice Best Offensive Player in the Minor Leagues. In 119 games with Hartford and Albuquerque he hit .355 with 39 doubles, four triples, 20 home runs and 88 RBI, and struck out 92 times.
And he caught Black’s attention when he wasn’t at the plate.
Now he is going to be in the big leagues on Opening Day. Ian Desmond most likely will start at first base against Diamondbacks lefty Patrick Corbin, but McMahon will get ample playing time with Desmond moving to left field. And McMahon also could get a game or two at third base and possibly even second base, which he played on a limited basis in 2017.
“I focused on playing good ball,” McMahon said of his spring approach. “I was ready. I wanted to show (management) how mature my game is. This was an opportunity."
Initially McMahon figures to get most of his time against right-handed pitchers, facing the occasional lefty, and as he shows a comfort zone he will get more at-bats against left-handed pitchers.
It would seem the most likely approach will be similar to what original manager Don Baylor did when Todd Helton broke in as a rookie in 1998. The first couple of months Helton platooned with Greg Colbrunn, Baylor wanting to make sure Helton did not have anything close to a slump. By the All-Star Break the decision was made that Helton was ready and Colbrunn was dealt to the Braves.
Could the Rockies assume a similar approach to McMahon?
”I don’t make decisions,” he said. “Bud Black and Jeff (Bridich, general manager) do. I have to stay ready and do what I have been doing. I think the guys believe in me. I think the coaches believe in me, too.”
That is apparent by the fact McMahon earned his spot on the Opening Day roster.