Orioles third baseman Manny Machado slaps hands with teammate… (Greg Fiume, Getty Images )
The Orioles first tested Manny Machado back in spring training, when they brought the then 19-year-old to big league camp to play in several Grapefruit League games. The 2010 No. 3 overall pick dressed in the auxiliary clubhouse away from the major league camp invitees. He wore a jersey with the No. 85 on it that, initially, didn't have his last name on the back.
It was then the Orioles wanted to begin gauging whether Machado could help the big league team in 2012.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter wasn't so much as paying attention to the stats Machado put up, but the intangibles.
"I couldn't put it into writing. It's eyeballing it; it's the body language," Showalter said. "The stats and swings and pitches and velocity, that's easy. Anybody can see that. It's in-between innings, it's on and off the field, it's interacting with your teammates, umpires' iffy calls, presentation to the other team.
"You get a feel for how things play in the big leagues, there are things other than statistics. And you talk to people who you trust, you value your opinion on some of the things they see.That's why we really challenged him in the spring with some menial stuff as far as road trips and bus rides and he handled it well."
In baseball's youth movement of today — when players like the Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout and the Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper can give their teams instant energy — Machado, who is five weeks removed from his 20th birthday, has done the same.
"People just tell me to take it day by day," Machado said. "Whatever happens today, whether I go 0-for-4 or have four hits, just take it in and just forget about it and look at tomorrow as a new day. Just go about your business and go out there and hustle every day to help this team to win."
He's hit three homers in four games — he hit 11 in 109 games this season at Double-A Bowie — and is hitting .375 (6-for-16) with five extra-base hits and seven RBIs.
"The Orioles have a very good player," said Kansas City Royals pitcher Bruce Chen after allowing Machado's third home run on Sunday. "He's 20 years old and has never played above Double-A, so he's being thrown into the fire. He has responded very well. He looks like he's going to be a good player for a long time. We'd better get used to making good pitches against him because he looks like a real good player."
Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said it when Machado was called up on Thursday: "It was really a matter of when he was going to join the team, right?"
And the Orioles brass believe Machado can withstand all the physical and mental hurdles of the majors, especially that time after all the firsts are over and Machado hits the grind of being an every-day player.
"He'll get into the routine," Showalter said. "There's a few tweaks different than say, Bowie. I can only equate it to my first year in the big leagues. The buzz in my emotions never went away that whole year. Going in to play the Red Sox the first time or the Yankees the first time, or traveling to Texas or getting on a charter — those are all things that a young man has hoped for. It's a constant new experience. The adrenaline rush with the first time of everything is always going to be there for most all of the year. I think he'll stay grounded. He has a good clock about his body language, so to speak."
Orioles all-star and Gold Glove catcher Matt Wieters has been through that. Wieters was drafted with the fifth overall pick in 2007, and debuted with the Orioles less than two years later over Memorial Day weekend in 2009.
Wieters said the sooner Machado finds a routine — and can also make a big baseball world smaller by concentrating on smaller individual goals — the better off he will be.
"That's why I always thought that catching was the best position for it because you're having to get ready for the pitching staff and you have to do so much work," Wieters said. "You're not standing out there in the field worrying about different things that are going on. I think playing catcher made it easier for me, and you know, playing third might make it easier for him, because he's going to have to learn there a little bit more because he doesn't have the experience he has at shortstop.
"Different challenges and different things you can always constantly learn and try to improve on can help put away the distractions that can come around. That's how you're able to improve the most, be able to have one thing to work on and improve in that area and then move on to another thing."
Orioles infielder Wilson Betemit was first called up to the majors at 19 by the Braves in late 2001 after opening the season in Class-A. Betemit, who will likely lose playing time at third base to Machado, said he's given Machado some advice about being in the big leagues so young.