It’s not fair to call Ryan McMahon a man without a position.
Better to say he’s training to be one.
McMahon has been rotating around the Albuquerque Isotopes’ infield since he was promoted from Double-A Hartford on June 1. He’s played 11 games at first base, seven at second and five at third. McMahon lined up at second base for the ‘Topes’ 12-5 win over against visiting El Paso on Sunday night.
If fans don’t necessarily know where to look for McMahon on the field, they can rest assured he’ll be in the lineup. The 22-year-old has been swinging a sizzling bat since his arrival, and Isotopes manager Glenallen Hill plans to take advantage while he can.
“The best part about it,” Hill said, “this is not a hot streak. You’re seeing what type of hitter Ryan McMahon is.”
Through 22 Triple-A games, McMahon has been a game-changing type of hitter. He is batting .423 (41 for 97) with 13 doubles, five homers and 22 RBIs.
Between Albuquerque and Hartford, McMahon is hitting .361 this season with 11 homers and 53 RBIs.
Such production isn’t necessarily shocking for a player rated by several publications as one of the Colorado Rockies’ top prospects. It is a bit eye-catching after McMahon hit just .242 with 12 home runs in a full season at Hartford in 2016.
“I think it was a matter of adjustments,” McMahon said. “Last year was my first in Double-A and I got away from some of the things I’d done before. If you’re not the best version of yourself in Double-A, you get exposed.”
The Yorba Linda, Calif., native also struggled a bit with his first exposure to playing on the East Coast — for a Hartford club that did not have a home stadium and played exclusively on the road.
“At the end of the day it’s still baseball,” McMahon said, “but a whole season on the road was pretty brutal. Hartford has a beautiful stadium now, and it was worth the wait. But last year was rough, man.”
McMahon came to spring training this year determined to regain the form that made him an all-star at each of his previous professional stops. His biggest adjustment at the plate was relatively minor.
“Last year I got to where I had different swings for inside and outside pitches,” McMahon said. “I’m back to one, short bat path and keep everything in the middle of the field.”
A bigger adjustment came on the defensive side. McMahon played first and third bases last season, but he’s since bought into the idea that “utility player” now has a positive connotation around major league baseball.
Instead of being glorified pinch-hitters who can go weeks without needing their fielding gloves, “utility” guys like Ben Zobrist of the Chicago Cubs and Marwin Gonzalez of the Houston Astros play regularly at various different positions. Such players are now in high demand.
“Versatility plays at every level,” Hill said. “And the thing is, when you have superstars in your organization who aren’t going to move, your options as a young player are to be versatile, get traded or make it to the majors and spend a lot of time on the bench.”
McMahon grew up playing numerous positions and said he doesn’t mind moving from spot to spot. He laughed when asked to choose a favorite position.
“I guess if I had to choose one it would be third,” he said, “because you don’t have to run so much. You run a lot at second base and at first you have to sprint to the bag every play.
“To be honest, though, I’ll play almost anywhere.”
Versatility does have its limits. Even in the Isotopes’ 14-inning marathon Saturday night, McMahon was not among the position players lining up to pitch. His last mound appearance came during his freshman year of high school.
“I walked the bases loaded and the next guy hit a line drive off my knee,” McMahon said. “The guy after that hit a grand slam and my pitching career was done. No one wants to see me on the mound.”
The batter’s box is another matter, and McMahon knows productive hitting provides the surest path to the major leagues.
“Teams usually find a way to put a hot bat in the lineup,” he said, “but being able to play multiple positions can only help. I just want to sneak in there somewhere.”