By David Heck, Special to CBS Local Sports
CBS Local Sports will be profiling one young player from each Major League Baseball team every day for the next 30 days as part of our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature.
Manny Machado, Third Baseman, Baltimore Orioles
2012 season: 51 G, 191 AB, .262 BA, 7 HR, 26 RBI, 24 R, .739 OPS
When Manny Machado was called up in August of last season, many analysts thought it was a mistake. Sure, he was probably better than Wilson Betemit at that point – that’s not a very high bar to meet – but many thought that pushing a 19-year-old from Double-A to the Majors probably wouldn’t be good for his development. For most players, that would be true. But most players don’t have the skill-set that Machado does.
Following his promotion, Machado almost equaled the offensive line that he put up in twice as many games at Double-A, where he hit .266 with 11 homers and a .789 OPS in 109 contests. He also played stellar defense at third base despite the fact that he had only played two games there in the minors; he was exclusively a shortstop until the Orioles decided he should get a modicum of experience there before his call-up.
Ultimately, Machado helped propel the Orioles to their first playoff appearance since 1997. So what can we expect for an encore?
In the long term, Machado projects as a perennial All-Star and possible MVP candidate. There’s no reason to think he won’t eventually end up at shortstop, and he has almost every attribute that one looks for in a player: power, speed, fielding acumen and a high baseball IQ. Machado is known to train with Alex Rodriguez, who essentially represents his best-case scenario. It’s never likely that a player will reach that kind of level, but the fact that it’s in the conversation says everything about Machado’s potential.
This year, there’s more of a question about how well Machado will perform. He could regress after putting up numbers that might have been over his head last year, or he could catapult into the star player that he seems destined to be. One thing that undoubtedly needs work is his approach at the plate – he drew just nine walks in the majors last year and posted an unimpressive .294 on-base percentage. That’s tolerable for a player so young, but it’s something he’ll have to improve in order to reach his ceiling. The fact that he was walking at a higher rate in Double-A (10.5%) than in the bigs (4.5%) shows that it’s an adjustment he’s probably capable of making. He’s also not likely to hit for average at this point, as he managed just a .263 mark in 219 minor league games.
Those are minor quibbles with Machado’s game, however. For a 20-year-old, he is extremely impressive. The Orioles will have a hard time reaching the playoffs again – especially with teams like the Blue Jays and Red Sox improving – but if they are competitive, there’s little doubt that Machado will have a lot to do with it.
Next up on March 5: Tampa Bay Rays