Asheville Tourists: Ryan McMahon deserves our attention


By Ian Casselberry

Calling Asheville Tourists third baseman Ryan McMahon “overlooked” would probably be an overstatement. He was one of three players we highlighted going into the 2014 season. Even among that trio, however, McMahon was listed third behind outfielders David Dahl and Raimel Tapia.

During a four-game stretch through last weekend, Dahl showed the talent that made him a first-round draft pick for the Colorado Rockies and a highly regarded minor league prospect. In those four games, he batted 7-for-17 (.412) with three home run, five RBI (Runs Batted In) and a stolen base. Raising his batting average from .222 to .267, it appeared that Dahl was shaking off some early-season struggles and warming up with the weather. But in his past four games, he has one hit in 11 at-bats (.091), demonstrating yet again how humbling baseball can be for even its brightest stars.

Meanwhile, Tapia has displayed the raw batting skills that drew attention from minor league observers. As the Tourists hit the road for Hickory, NC and Charleston, W. Va., he was batting .370. In his past six games, Tapia has been getting hits, but not quite at the volume he was at McCormick Field. He batted 4-for-24 (.166), dropping his overall batting average to .275 and his OPS (On-Base plus Slugging percentage) to .629. The first road trip of the season, along with the colder temperatures we’ve faced in the Southeast could certainly have played a role in that performance.

Yet those factors don’t seem to have affected McMahon, who had an impressive road trip for the Tourists. In the past six games, he batted 8-for-22 (.364) with two doubles, three homers and five RBI. With that, McMahon now leads Asheville with five home runs, nine walks and a 1.178 OPS. His nine RBI are tied with Correlle Prime for the most on the team and his .326 batting average ranks fourth among the Tourists’ everyday players. Combined with the excellent defense he’s provided at third base, McMahon has been one of the team’s most impressive players thus far and should get even better as the weather warms up.

John Sickels, who writes at SB Nation’s Minor League Ball, released his list of top 20 Rockies prospects earlier this week. He placed McMahon fourth in his rankings, behind former Tourists pitcher Eddie Butler and Dahl, which is high praise considering the level of talent in the Colorado organization (much of which has passed through Asheville in recent years). Yet in his notes on McMahon, Sickels asked if “people were sleeping on this guy.”

If that’s the case, it’s a bit puzzling. But Sickels might be right. In recent updates on South Atlantic League prospects, FanGraphs analysts JD Sussman and Nathaniel Stoltz focused on Dahl and pitcher Alex Balog. Perhaps they’ll be getting around to McMahon soon. He’s playing too well not to warrant closer attention.

McMahon was a high draft pick for the Rockies, selected in the second round (No. 42 overall) out of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif. in 2013. He had a great season for the organization’s rookie league team in Grand Junction last year, batting .321 with a .984 OPS, 18 doubles, 11 home runs and 52 RBI in 59 games. It appears that McMahon is carrying that performance to the next level in Asheville. For what it’s worth, no Tourists player seems to draw interest from my Twitter posts more than McMahon. His friends and family back in California are eager to see how he’s doing. Right now, it’s all good news.

Checking On Ian Stewart
The last thing Sickels said about McMahon was, “Perhaps he is the player that Ian Stewart was supposed to be.” One thing we’d like to do this season is keep tabs on players with connections to the Asheville area, whether with the Tourists or UNC Asheville, and Stewart continues to be a popular player in this region. As you likely know, the former Tourists third baseman (who hit 30 home runs with 101 RBI in 2004) keeps his offseason home here and is the son-in-law of longtime skipper Joe Mikulik.

Stewart did not have a good 2013 season with the Chicago Cubs. After signing a non-guaranteed contract to return to the team, he suffered an injury in spring training which prevented him from playing and he was assigned to Triple-A Iowa to begin the season. By June, Stewart was frustrated at being kept in the minors and vented about it on Twitter, saying that the Cubs should release him since he had “no shot at a call-up.” He went on to say that manager Dale Sveum didn’t like him.

As you might expect, the Cubs didn’t care for that and suspended him for 10 games, citing the “loyalty clause” in his contract. Following his suspension, the Cubs granted Stewart his wish and gave him an unconditional release from the organization. However, Stewart was still paid the $2 million on his contract (minus the $110,000 resulting from his suspension) and ended the season with the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Triple-A club in Albuquerque.

Stewart signed a minor-league deal with the Los Angeles Angels in spring training and played well enough to earn a spot on their roster, batting . 292 with an .864 OPS, three homers and six RBI in 24 games. He’s a left-handed bat off the bench, providing depth at third and first base for the Angels. Stewart hasn’t gotten much of an opportunity to play early in the season, but drove in three runs with a home run and double during a 14-2 victory over the New York Mets on April 13. With the Angels losing Josh Hamilton and Kole Calhoun to injury, Stewart could see more playing time in the weeks to come.

*** The Asheville Tourists return to McCormick Field on April 17  for a three-game set against Hickory beginning with a Thirsty Thursday. That’s followed by a seven-game road trip to Greenville and Augusta before the team returns on April 29 for a seven-game homestand. Single game tickets are currently available at the McCormick Field box office. For more information, contact the Tourists’ front office at (828) 258-0428.

Ian Casselberry covers Major League Baseball at The Outside Corner and provides analysis for The WISE Guys on ESPN Asheville (1310 and 970 AM) every Tuesday at 4:20 p.m. Follow Ian on Twitter.