White Sox’s Carson Fulmer for Rockies prospect Ryan McMahon is a win-win deal


Wait, who is Ryan McMahon? Shouldn’t I have heard of him if he’s the headliner in this theoretical return for Chicago White Sox 2015 first-rounder Carson Fulmer.

And trade Carson Fulmer, the guy who CSN’s Chuck Garfien just tabbed as a future star? 

Yes, and Ryan McMahon happens to be a third baseman in the Colorado Rockies organization who hits just about every check mark for the White Sox.

Throughout the entire offseason, Rick Hahn has talked about the team targeting cost-controlled players who can grow with the core they’ve been assembling since the 2013 trade deadline. This is a shift from last offseason where the goal was to add veteran supplemental pieces, such as Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche.

This strategy makes sense because the idea is to expand the window even beyond the primes of Chris Sale and Jose Abreu. While Avisail Garcia and Matt Davidson were once thought to be catalysts for more distant success, they’re now fighting off bust status. It would behoove the White Sox to add a piece that can join Tim Anderson and Spencer Adams down the line.

Building a secondary core so to speak means the party won’t be over when Sale and Abreu enter their thirties.

Ryan McMahon is that piece. Drafted by the Rockies out of high school, McMahon was a second-rounder and the 42nd overall pick in 2013.

Since then, he’s blossomed, skyrocketing to the fifth best prospect in the Rockies organization and reaching third-ranked status among third base prospects around the game, per MLBPipeline.

To add another accolade, he checks in at #50 overall on MLB.com’s Top 100 Prospect List.

McMahon turns 21 in three days (Happy early Birthday Ryan!), so needless to say he’s certainly got age on his side.

Adding Ryan McMahon is a way the White Sox can extend their window.

While McMahon still needs some polishing, it’s quite possible that with a strong showing in Double-A in 2016 he could be in line for a midseason call-up in 2017, and be ready to take over the reigns at the hot corner full-time as soon as the 2018 season.

That fits perfectly for the White Sox who just acquired Brett Lawrie to play third base. Lawrie only has two seasons of team control left and will be a free agent after the 2017 season.

My first instinct with Lawrie is that he profiles as an extension candidate if it all clicks for him next year, but even in that event he could easily shift over to second base to make room for McMahon.

McMahon bats left-handed with a smooth, level swing. He has a minimal load, which lends him consistency in his timing and balance as the barrel drives threw the plane. As a result, he squares up a lot of balls (.401 BABIP says as much) and has a preponderance for hitting line drives.

While a higher than average BABIP can usually be indicative of regression driven by luck, I think once it reaches a high enough threshold and is sustained over a season-long sample size like McMahon’s was, it doesn’t really need to be taken with a grain of salt.

Now let’s dive into the more traditional numbers.

McMahon crushed pitching in both Rookie Ball and Low-A, but last year with Rockies High-A affiliate the Modesto Nuts, McMahon produced this line:

.300/.372/.520 to go along with 43 doubles, six triples, and 18 bombs. 

Now that’s production. Sure the Modesto Nuts play in the California League, which like the PCL is known to inflate hitters’ lines, but what stands out about McMahon is how much younger he was than the competition.

At just 20 years old, he was a good two years younger than the average player in High-A, yet he produced stats that are normally seen when a 4-A type player exploits their younger opponents.

This gives reason to believe that McMahon won’t see a significant drop off as he escalates up the system because he’s already hitting well against pitchers who are comparatively more seasoned than he is.

If there’s anything McMahon can improve upon from an offensive standpoint, it’s his plate discipline. The slugger amassed 153 strikeouts in 556 plate appearances, which led to a 27.5% strikeout rate.

Still, there’s some promise in the peripherals. McMahon’s high OBP was legit because he managed an 8.8% walk rate, so he’s slightly above average in that department.

It’s not as if we’re looking at a guy with a 30.0%/5.0% strikeout to walk ratio, and I think it’s reasonable to expect he could get closer to a 25.0%/10.0% profile.

For those who are weary of strikeout rates, I like to remind people that Kris Bryant had a career 28.8 percent whiff rate in the minors and went on to win Rookie of the Year last season, and that was despite posting a 30.6% strikeout rate at the big league level.

The point is, power plays and honestly it’s only a problem if the whiffs aren’t met with significant  output. Thankfully, McMahon holds up the other end of the bargain as he posted a .220 ISO in High-A.

McMahon sports a 6’2, 185 pound frame that he should grow into as he matures. Based on the numbers he’s put up in the minors in so far, his solid mechanics, and a smart eye at the plate, McMahon seems destined for middle-of-the-order bat status.

A 25-30 home run ceiling in a park like the Cell to go along with a reasonable batting average, is a guy you make a bet on.

That’s in addition to his defense, which… well I’ll just leave this here:

"Defensively, he has the chance to be as good as the Gold Glover currently in Colorado, Nolan Arenado, with great hands, a strong throwing arm and outstanding instincts at the hot corner, per MLBPipeline."

So a potent bat and gold-glove defense? Sign me up.

The above average defense gives McMahon a higher floor, so it’s easier to live with talent going the other way to get him.

Let me preface this by saying I’m really high on Carson Fulmer. He’s the organization’s number two prospect and the 42nd rated prospect in baseball. He’s got a true three-pitch mix, with a fastball and curve that both rate as plus offerings.

In fact the movement on that fastball is so pretty, it’s edging closer to plus-plus territory.

Fulmer may have an unconventional motion and frame for a starter but his mold is often compared to other Vanderbilt product Sonny Gray, and Gray’s certainly succeeded in a starting role. Plus, Fulmer’s got the competitive fire every fan loves in a ballplayer.

The Rockies would jump at the chance to get Carson Fulmer because he’s got the floor of an elite closer, and the ceiling of a frontline arm. He’d be the shiniest toy on their new shelf of power arms.

There are a couple problems with a Fulmer/McMahon swap though. While it does a great job capitalizing on and balancing out both teams’ market inefficiencies, it also requires some refinement on both ends.

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The White Sox are probably one of the best equipped teams in the league when it comes to helping Fulmer reach his ceiling, and it’s no secret that the White Sox are poor in developing a hitter that’s still rough around the edges as far as plate discipline goes.

Ideally this trade could be made in principle now and consummated in 18 months when both players look more like finished products, but that’s not how trades work and it’s really just the risk involved in any swap.

Fulmer has exceptional value because of his ceiling. If he were to flop as a starter, getting a prospect like McMahon in return in the future may not be possible, so it might be worth taking the chance now.

On the flip side, if McMahon’s plate discipline never develops he looks more like an average regular than a player on the periphery of superstardom.

That’s the risk involved for both parties, but the interesting part about this trade is that it could very well be a win-win deal. The Rockies would turn a power bat into an arm they desperately need, and it would be as if the White Sox got to select Ryan McMahon with their 8th overall pick in last year’s draft.

Had a guy like McMahon been available at the eighth pick, the White Sox may have preferred him to Fulmer considering organizational need and McMahon’s upside.

The other caveat with this deal is the relative major league readiness of both players. That factor certainly plays into the calculus of this deal, and even more so for the South Siders.

McMahon seems destined for middle-of-the-order bat status and has a plus glove to boot.

The White Sox are ready to win now and Fulmer could be an asset in the bullpen or possibly an injection into the rotation going into the stretch run this season. In contrast, McMahon would be out for 2016 and at the earliest could contribute to a playoff push via a September call-up in ’17.

Then again, you have to factor in the price of winning now. According to 670 The Score’s Bruce Levine, the Cincinnati Reds have asked for either Tim Anderson or Carson Fulmer in a package for third baseman Todd Frazier, a guy that could help Chicago immediately.

But that’s giving up six years of Carson Fulmer for a player who could only aid efforts to win in 2016 and 2017.

In contrast you could turn Fulmer into a player that could help in late 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022 (maybe even 2023 depending on service time).

See the difference? One lessens 2016 chances but extends the window, and isn’t that ultimately the goal of sustained success.

The White Sox can live with Brett Lawrie at third this year and Sanchez/Johnson at second and still be legitimate contenders if they add elsewhere. Justin Upton is an obvious choice and there is certainly room in the payroll.

If you’re not comfortable with Sanchez at 2nd, put Lawrie there and sign David Freese (no comp-pick attachment) as a stop-gap. The payroll is there for both Upton and Freese. Repeat that in your mind and don’t believe anything else to the contrary. It is simply a matter of willingness.

As far as where the White Sox will find right-handed pitching for this year, well Frank Montas can be a Fulmer-lite in either a bullpen or starting role, and the White Sox could ink a buy-low candidate like Doug Fister or set their sights on dealing for a righty like Andrew Cashner.

I’m all for going big in 2016, but I’d also really like the White Sox to add a core piece this offseason that can help down the road. A lot of White Sox fans have been wondering what moves Hahn has up his sleeve and have been trying to detect players below the surface of the obvious targets.

While I have no insider knowledge, I’d wager that Ryan McMahon is somewhere high on Hahn’s offseason board, and don’t be surprised if he gets his man.