Machado's trip through Orioles' farm system could be a quick one

Shortstop prospect slated to start in Delmarva on Thursday seems destined for Baltimore sooner rather than later

April 06, 2011|By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

SARASOTA, Fla. — — Orioles officials talked about Manny Machado this spring mostly in measured tones, as if they were trying to keep something that was painfully obvious a secret.

But all it took was to watch the 18-year-old shortstop effortlessly glide to his left to field a ground ball, or stand in the batter's box and lace line drives into the gap to reach this conclusion:

"Some people just look like they belong on the baseball field. Manny Machado looks like he belongs on a baseball field," said Brian Graham, the Orioles coordinator of minor league instruction.

The minor league season gets underway for most of the Orioles' affiliates on Thursday, and the clear headliner will be Machado, the third overall pick in 2010 out of Brito High School in Miami. Machado will start the season for Single-A Delmarva, but those who saw him play this spring are already imagining how quickly he could move through the system.

That process will start Thursday as Machado plays his first game for the Shorebirds at Arthur W. Perdue Stadium against Greensboro.

"Obviously, you have a goal and my goal is to get up there as soon as possible, but I'm just out here trying to play," said Machado, the Orioles' most heralded prospect since catcher Matt Wieters. "I'm not really looking at ending the season at Double-A or whatever it is. My goal right now is just to play baseball and hopefully win down there — try to change this around, get in the playoffs and just play hard and do my job."

Machado, ranked as the 14th-best prospect in baseball by Baseball America, has done little to diminish the weighty expectations placed on him after agreeing to a $5.25 million signing bonus last August. In seven games for short-season Single-A Aberdeen last year, he went 10-for-29 (.345) with a double, triple and three RBIs. At a scaled-down instructional league for some of the organization's top prospects at Camden Yards late last season, Machado impressed former Orioles infielder and current roving coach Mike Bordick with his ability to pick things up quickly, and his eagerness to fit in.

Official statistics for minor league spring training games are not available, but Machado did something on a daily basis this spring that left a coach or teammate shaking their head.

"In all the years that I've been playing, I've never seen somebody swing the bat the way he does, or look so smooth defensively like he does," said minor league second baseman L.J. Hoes, a third-round pick in 2008 who is now the Orioles' fourth-best prospect according to Baseball America. "He's an 18-year-old-kid coming up in professional baseball. I remember how I was. For him, it seems that he is already at the point where I am now, just slowing the game down, being able to see different things, being able to see different plays. To me, he looks like a Double-A or Triple-A hitter right now. If he continues to work hard and continues to keep his head, I think you'll see him in Baltimore pretty soon."

Knowing how much hype and unfair expectations were bestowed on Wieters, Orioles officials have seemingly made an effort to deflect attention off of the multi-tooled shortstop who batted .639 with 12 homers and 17 steals as a senior at Brito High and then hit .367 this past summer in helping lead the USA National Team to a gold medal at the Pan American Junior Championship.

When the Orioles brought Machado up for a couple of Grapefruit League games this spring, manager Buck Showalter made sure not to single him out, mostly talking about the group summoned to the big league roster as a whole. Asked for his impressions on what he saw from Machado this spring, Orioles director of amateur scouting Joe Jordan simply smiled and attempted to change the subject.

Team officials want to see how Machado handles the rigors of playing every day and dealing with a longer season. They want him to improve things like his baserunning and his two-strike approach, and they want to see how he handles some inevitable struggles and slumps that every young player goes through.

"This game is failure," Machado said. "If you don't fail, if you don't know how to deal with failure, you shouldn't play. You have three hits in 10 at-bats, you are hitting .300 but you fail seven times."

Machado, who is an impressive 6 feet 2, 185 pounds, worked out at the University of Miami this offseason with several major leaguers, including New York Yankees star third baseman Alex Rodriguez. Machado idolized Rodriguez, also a former Miami prep standout, growing up, and some aspects of his game have garnered comparisons to the three-time American League Most Valuable Player.

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