McMahon homers in AFL Fall Stars Game

Rockies prospect working to overcome struggles in '16

McMahon homers in AFL Fall Stars Game

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The pink rubber bracelet on Rockies corner infield prospect Ryan McMahon's left wrist offered a simple reminder: "Breathe." But on Saturday night, he went one better.

He exhaled.

McMahon pulled a two-run homer to right field against Astros right-handed pitching prospect Francis Martes for the East team during the fifth inning of the West's 12-4 win in the Arizona Fall League's Fall Stars Game at Surprise Stadium.

The homer on Martes' 3-1 changeup represented some fresh air during a year in which McMahon has been doing more grunting than breathing.

"Just breathe … that's all I did," McMahon said. "Then I swung."

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Young for Double-A ball at 21, McMahon endured a grueling 2016 season at Hartford, which was on a constant bus trip because the team's stadium was not completed. After hitting .300 with 18 homers, 75 RBIs and a .892 OPS in 2015 in the California League, McMahon dipped to .242 with a .724 OPS for Hartford.

In regular-season AFL play for the Salt River Rafters, McMahon has hit .242 with 14 strikeouts and 10 walks. Add the fact that he's transitioning from third base -- where Nolan Arenado's presence in Colorado blocks his path -- to first base, and it's clear to see that this season is an exercise to fighting fatigue and finding meaning in struggles.

And smiling through them.

"You can't pass up an opportunity like this," said McMahon, a second-round Draft pick in '13 out of Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif. "I have embraced it. It's still baseball every day. The only thing that was a little rough was the bus trips every three or four days. Besides that, it was still baseball. Coming here is a great opportunity, a fun league, a great developmental league."

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McMahon hit .221 through the end of June but improved to .268 after July 1. There have been signs of fatigue in his swing in AFL play, but that's common for young players.

Still, the work on his swing has continued. Before some AFL games, he has spent mornings in the batting cage at the Rockies' complex here with Hartford hitting coach Jeff Salazar. A homer, even in an exhibition in an offseason league, is validation.

"You don't want to base it off results, but results are good to have," said McMahon, who has swung better in recent days. "I'm happy with how my swing is coming along."

As a high school baseball and football star, the failure that is inherent to baseball was just a tale. But it hit him in the face this year.

"You hear about everybody else going through it, but when you're actually going through it, I don't think you realized it until somebody else tells you," he said. "All my coaches this year talked to me about it. It's not what you do, it's how you come back from it."

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The bracelet -- a product of longtime coach and psychologist Alan Jaeger, which McMahon pilfered from friend and D-backs pitching prospect Jared Miller -- is a reminder of the lessons learned this year: Pay close attention to what used to come easy, before competition level and fatigue increased.

"My perspective on the game has gone a complete 180 -- a more mature perspective," McMahon said. "I'm thankful that it happened. I would have just kept doing what I was doing -- attack 100 mph, just play crazy. I have more awareness of the things that happen throughout the game, the little things, stuff you pick up on about the pitcher, stuff like that."

Rockies pitching prospect Rayan Gonzalez also got into the game, hitting a batter and forcing a flyout.

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.