Prospect Watch: McMahon, Rondon, and Garcia by Nathaniel Stoltz April 18, 2014 Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list. ***Ryan McMahon, 3B, Colorado Rockies (Profile) Level: Low-A Age: 19 Top-15: 5th Top-100: N/A Line: 58 PA, .326/.439/.783, 6 HR, 10 BB, 13 K Summary After a romp through the Pioneer League last year, McMahon is continuing to crush the ball, and he projects well going forward. Notes A second-round pick in 2013, McMahon immediately put himself high on the prospect map by raking at a .321/.402/.583 clip in Advanced-Rookie ball straight out of high school. However, due to the general non-predictiveness of short-season stats, as well as the extreme hitter’s league he played in, it was difficult to tell exactly how much of that would hold up. Fourteen games into his first foray into full-season ball, he’s only picked up the pace, with all three of his triple-slash stats outpacing his Rookie league ones, his walks up, his strikeouts down, and six big flies already. Of course, it’s dangerous to take much from that, too–fourteen games is a small sample, McMahon’s home park is an utter bandbox (I talked more about it in this piece), and using Low-A statistics as a predictive measure is far from optimal even in the most statistically powerful context. Thankfully, I can offer more than just a rundown of how great McMahon’s early-season production is–I can talk about the visual that accompanies it. For one, I saw him do this: That’s a pretty tremendous piece of hitting for a 19-year-old. He gets a backdoor curve that has some bite on the outer part of the plate and launches it out to the opposite field like it’s batting practice. McMahon has a lot of raw power, but doesn’t sell out for it, as you can see above. He has good bat speed and can hit the ball hard to all fields. Here, he pulls a 94-mph fastball for a double to right field: He also recognizes pitches well, enabling him to project for solid zone control in the future. While power is his calling card, McMahon is a well-rounded offensive threat and could hit in the .270-.280 range with a lot of walks if he reaches his upside. Defensively, he’s off to a rougher start, with four errors this year, but he fielded .933 last year, an advanced rate for a teenage third baseman, and he showed smooth actions and a solid arm at third base in my two-game viewing, enough to give me no significant concerns about his ability to stick there. Yes, the Rockies’ system as a whole is full of inflated parks that produce inflated numbers that can make it difficult to separate the prospects from the pretenders, but McMahon is the real deal. *** Cleuluis Rondon, SS, Chicago White Sox (Profile) Level: Low-A Age: 21 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A Line: 68 PA, .281/.294/.344, 0 HR, 2 BB, 11 K Summary Rondon is a defensive wizard who may be able to reach the majors on glove alone. As for the bat? Well, we’ll see. Notes I see a lot of Low-A baseball games. You know what never happens in a Low-A baseball game? This: First off, it’s rare that a shortstop gets that many chances to make plays in a game, period. But more importantly–as I’ve discussed here–left-side infielders in the low minors generally aren’t very good defensively. Quite a few have a chance to someday be good defensively, but at present? Well, that’s why they’re in the low minors! Just the error rates alone of some of these players are frightening (many reside in the low .900s, if not lower), to say nothing of the miscues that don’t show up in the “E” column (and we all know errors are far from the whole story of defense). So, to see a shortstop at the Low-A level–and a young one, at that (he just turned 20 this week)–execute so many different kinds of difficult plays flawlessly in one contest was quite the revelation. Cleuluis Rondon covers a lot of ground to both sides, goes back well on popups, and boasts a good arm for the shortstop position. Perhaps more striking, though, is his situational awareness, which is on full display in the above video–aggressively charging rollers, taking charge on popups in no-man’s land, and most notably, throwing out two runners in non-force situations on plays that most shortstops wouldn’t even realize were viable options. Rondon’s the best defensive shortstop I’ve seen live, and I’m not sure it’s particularly close. But what of the bat? Well, that’s the big question. Acquired in the Jake Peavy trade from the Red Sox organization, Rondon was rushed up to Kannapolis last August because the White Sox don’t have a short-season-A affiliate, and he wasn’t ready, hitting .202/.279/.234 with a sole extra-base hit (a homer) in 29 contests. This year, he’s at .281/.294/.344 with four doubles in 15 games, cutting his strikeout rate from 23.1% to 16.1%. A switch-hitter, Rondon packs a bit of punch from his natural right side, but he’s more of a slap hitter as a lefty. He has some extraneous hand movement in his load that gives him an elongated path to the ball, and while he has solid natural hand-eye coordination, he doesn’t consistently square the ball, often rolling over pitches or popping them up. Further, his pitch recognition skills are underdeveloped, and he’s had a lot of trouble with breaking pitches from righthanders. This limits his ability to get in favorable hitter’s counts and work walks. Still, though, Rondon just turned 20, he’s relatively new to hitting lefty, and at least he’s putting the ball in play an above-average amount–that’s something to build on on the offensive side of the ball. If he can be something beyond a total liability at the plate, he could easily have a long career as a defensive specialist in the John McDonald/Brendan Ryan mold. Rondon should evolve into one of the premier defensive shortstops in the game, which will keep him around as a Triple-A guy for a long time at the very least. The bat will determine how much further he ascends beyond that floor. ***Jarlin Garcia, LHP, Miami Marlins (Profile) Level: Low-A Age: 21 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A Line: 15 IP, 13 H, 6 R, 17/4 K/BB, 2.40 ERA, 2.60 FIP Summary It’s hard not to like a lefty who can touch 94 mph, throw two different solid offspeed pitches, and have some idea of how to use his stuff. Notes Guys like Garcia often get bandied about as sleepers in their systems–he’s a lefty who struck out over a batter per inning last year in the New York/Penn League at age 20, which is intriguing. Baseball America liked him enough to rank him as the #28 prospect in the Marlins system entering the year, and he’s quickly built on his prospect status with three solid starts to open his first full-season campaign. As with McMahon, there are positive on-field signs to legitimize Garcia’s production so far. The stringy, projectable lefthander has three pitches which all show well at times: a 90-93 mph fastball that touches 94, a hard slider at 81-87 mph, and a fading changeup at 82-86. He snaps off a couple of good hard sliders in this strikeout of Lakewood’s Willians Astudillo: And he shows off his three-pitch arsenal here: With plus velocity for a lefthander, good life on the fastball, two promising offspeed pitches, and enough control to have a career 2.4 BB/9 rate, Garcia doesn’t have any obvious flaws. The biggest issue with him currently, which is somewhat evident in the above videos, is a tendency to vary his effort level from pitch to pitch. He’ll often try to throw the ball through a brick wall with two strikes, which does get his velocity to 93 mph more consistently in those situations, but also tips the offering and compromises his ability to command the ball. He’ll also overthrow the slider at times–it was at its most effective in the 81-84 range, and he tended to miss badly with it at 85-87, losing both location and bite. Still, the pitch-to-pitch inconsistency is exactly the sort of thing that can be ironed out over time; the key right now is that Garcia has a wide base of raw tools and a reasonable idea (for his age) of what to do with them. If he can continue to develop from here, he could have a consistent rise on prospect lists over the next couple of seasons.