As a part of our Quest for the Asterisk series, we’ll be taking a look at the players who will be most pivotal in taking the Colorado Rockies back to the postseason in 2020.
Every team needs their stars to lead by example, both on the field and statistically. It’s a waste of time to tell you that Nolan Arenado and German Márquez need to be good. That’s obvious.
Starting with the first exhibition game on Tuesday and running through Opening Day on Friday, we’ll highlight those players – The Definitive Five – outside of the core performers whose season will truly determine whether the Rockies will reign again.
No. 1 – Ryan McMahon, 2B/1B
Throughout DJ LeMahieu’s MVP-caliber season with the New York Yankees in 2019, there was much surprise nationally about the infielder’s abilities.
Locally, the real surprise was that the Rockies allowed him to leave via free agency.
Seven years prior, LeMahieu came to the organization as a 22-year-old second baseman just three years removed from Louisiana State University. Taken in the second round by the Chicago Cubs, he’d eventually be traded to Colorado with Tyler Colvin in a deal that sent Casey Weathers and Ian Stewart to the North Side.
While LeMahieu would rank no higher than 10th in either the Cubbies or Rockies system according to Baseball America, he’d go on to be selected to two All-Star Game appearances and win three Gold Glove Awards, not to mention being the veteran keystone of a middle infield duo that would make consecutive postseasons for the first time in franchise history.
Conversely, there’s Ryan McMahon.
Drafted out of high school as a third baseman, McMahon has taken his place among the top bats for the Rockies after a breakout 2019 that saw him well ahead of schedule by LeMahieu’s standards.
Consider the numbers these two second basemen had for their respective age-24 season.
By bWAR standards, McMahon was only slightly better in 32 more games than LeMahieu at that point in his career (1.2 to 1.1), but it’s hard to not be taken aback at RyMac’s home run and runs batted in totals.
A lot of LeMahieu’s value in his first three years with Colorado came on the defensive side. It wouldn’t be until his age-26 season when he made his first All-Star appearance that the man from Michigan would emerge as a truly notable player.
For McMahon, a player still learning how to play the position after only 49 games at second base in the minors, his offense is well ahead of his former teammate. Given more time, he could certainly match three Gold Gloves by the time he enters free agency after the 2023 season.
McMahon was destined to become an All-Star in 2020 much like it was in the cards for David Dahl in 2019. The same goes for 30 home runs and 100 runs batted in.
“I fully expect Mac to make the jump to the next level of the type of player that he is,” hitting coach Dave Magadan said of the 25-year-old infielder. “There’s no question for me that he can be an All-Star in this league. He’s got as much raw power as anybody I’ve ever had. And I’ve had a lot of guys that have had a lot of raw power.”
Some of those players Mags is referring to: Mike Piazza, David Ortiz, Adrián Beltré, Adrián González, Nelson Cruz, Prince Fielder and Paul Goldschmidt.
That’s quite an elite list.
“He’s got 40 homer power, especially here at Coors where he’s similar to Sam (Hilliard),” Magadan continued. “If he barrels a ball up and it’s hit on the right trajectory, it’s going to be a home run. It doesn’t matter where he hits it, whether it’s down the left field line, down the right field line. He’s got that kind of power.”
As the logical choice to protect Nolan Arenado in the lineup for the next few seasons, McMahon may even usurp Charlie Blackmon as the left-handed bat that hits third between the right-handed hitting Trevor Story and Arenado in the near future.
Not only could that type of pliability in the lineup translate to an increased win total for the Rockies, but it’s the same that Story and Arenado flashed in their adolescence with the club.
There’s also an ability to play multiple infield positions, something unseen in a star player for the franchise since third baseman Vinny Castilla started four games at shortstop in his first All-Star season of 1995.
Even with the addition of the designated hitter to the National League to help create additional playing time for some of the fringier players on the roster, McMahon’s ability to play both first and second base allows manager Bud Black the flexibility to give Daniel Murphy an off-day as well as ensure Brendan Rodgers is not rushed along following his recent labrum surgery.
Though the abbreviated season makes for strange projections, one thing is clear: McMahon will be the most pivotal player in Colorado’s chances for contention in 2020.