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Third of a five-part series looking at the Rockies of 2020. Today: The infield
Shadows can’t obscure what Ryan McMahon accomplished in 2019.
Not the shadow of departed Gold Glove second baseman DJ LeMahieu, who’s now starring for the Yankees in the playoffs. Nor the shadow of the Rockies’ disappointing 71-91 season.
It can be argued that McMahon, 24, took a bigger step forward than any position player on the roster. A giant leap could be in the offing.
“I still think, and I’ve talked to ‘Mac’ about this, that there’s more in there,” manager Bud Black said. “It might take a year or two to have it all come out.”
McMahon hit 24 home runs and drove in 83 runs this season, both franchise records for a primary second baseman. A September slump, however, in which McMahon hit just .195 with a .271 on-base percentage, whittled his final batting average down to .250 and his OBP to .329.
“I need to improve my consistency, and I think there are a lot of young guys in this (clubhouse) who can take that next step, too,” McMahon said. “I watched guys like Nolan (Arenado), and Charlie (Blackmon) and (Trevor) Story, and they have been doing it for years.
“They have that consistency and that work ethic — for the whole season. That’s what’s next for me. That’s my goal.”
McMahon played in 91 games and had 181 at-bats in a middling 2018 season. But opportunity rose in 2019 because of LeMahieu’s departure via free agency and top prospect Brendan Rodgers’ season-ending shoulder surgery. McMahon became Colorado’s primary second baseman, playing in 141 games.
“This my first (full) big-league season and it definitely was a grind,” McMahon said. “You definitely feel it a little bit more, with altitude and all of that. But I’m trying to learn how to get through all of that. I’m trying to take my recovery a little bit more serious.”
McMahon came up as a third baseman and his transition to the other side of the infield was not seamless. He made some mental errors — failing to cover second base a few times, being out of position a few other times — but he also flashed some LeMahieu-like plays.
“When you’re a kid and you’re playing one position, one side of the infield, you become very comfortable with that,” Black said. “And when you move, it takes time to get comfortable. But I see Ryan, looking forward, as an above-average defender, no matter where you put him, with repetitions and games played.”
McMahon committed 13 errors at second base and finished with a .972 fielding percentage. LeMahieu, by comparison, made just four errors with the Rockies in 2018 and committed 27 errors from 2015-18.
The left side of the Rockies’ infield is one of the best in baseball but questions loom regarding first base and overall depth:
3B Nolan Arenado (.315 average, 41 home runs, .962 OPS): On his way to his seventh Gold Glove, Arenado lived up to his new eight-year, $260 million contract, posting a career-high OPS and will likely finish in the top five in National League MVP voting.
SS Trevor Story (.294, 35, .917): Story just keeps getting better and is a strong contender to win his first Gold Glove. He’s the first shortstop in big-league history to begin his career with four consecutive 20 home run seasons. Story, in his second season of arbitration, will get a raise from $5 million to likely $11 million for 2020.
1B Daniel Murphy (.279, 13, .780): The veteran’s season was marred by a broken finger that kept him off the field for 20 games and affected him for much of the first half of the season. His batting average was his worst since hitting .266 with the Mets in 2009 and his defense was subpar. He’s owed $14 million in 2020, so he’s penciled in as the starting first baseman. If that remains the case, Murphy, who turns 35 on April 1, must improve.
2B Ryan McMahon (.250, 24, .779): Should Colorado be able to swing a trade for Murphy, which is unlikely, McMahon would become the primary first baseman. Manager Bud Black, however, likes McMahon at second.
2B/SS/OF Garrett Hampson (.247, 8, .686): An adjustment at the plate — he ditched his leg kick for a simpler toe-tap — turned his season around. Hampson hit .318 with five home runs, a .903 OPS and nine stolen bases in September. He’s Colorado’s fastest player and proved he could handle duties in center field. He’s set to be the Rockies’ top utility player in 2020.
2B/SS Brendan Rodgers (.224, 0, .522): The organization’s top prospect made his long-awaited big-league debut May 17 at age 22 but his season ended in July with shoulder surgery. Rodgers made a nice splash, hitting .313/.371/.375 with two doubles through his first 32 plate appearances, but fell into a deep slump, slashing .159/.196/.159 over his next 46 plate appearances without an extra-base hit. Rodgers, a natural shortstop, still needs to work on his mechanics at second. How quickly he returns from a torn labrum remains to be seen.
2B/SS Pat Valaika (.190, 1, .572): Valaika, 27, has thrived at Triple-A but he’s struggled as a role player in the majors since leading the majors with 16 pinch-hit RBIs in 2017. Valaika still has options, so the Rockies might hold on to him or they might want to give his spot on the 40-man roster to someone else.
3B/1B Josh Fuentes (.218, 3, .632): Arenado’s younger cousin had a hamate bone injury in spring training but came back to make his big-league debut April 6, filling in for Murphy and McMahon, who were both injured. He did not impress, hitting 2-for-18 with eight strikeouts in nine games. His 15-game stint in September was much better: a .270/.289/.541 slash line that included three homers. Sprin