How does Manny Machado compare with some of baseball's young phenoms?

Through their first 89 career games, Machado is neck and neck with phenoms Trout and Harper

May 13, 2013|By Dan Connolly The Baltimore Sun

When he charges onto the infield grass, makes that barehanded pickup and throws a rocket to first, Manny Machado reminds Orioles fans of a superstar third baseman of yesteryear.

When he breaks out of the batter's box on a liner into the gap and hits first base in full stride on his way to another double, Machado shows old-school hustle.

And when he quietly strolls through clubhouse, proudly wearing his "Hakuna Machado" T-shirt while nodding to teammates, and, occasionally, breaking out an infectious smile, he flashes a necessary balance of confidence and respect.

So where are the reminders that this kid is 20? Or that he was in Double-A Bowie this time last year and in a Miami high school three years ago?

"He's definitely mature for a 20-year-old," Orioles catcher Matt Wieters said. "But he's a baseball player; he wants to play this game for a long time. And you can see that."

Since being recalled in August to fill a void at third base — a position he played in only two games in the minors — Machado has exceeded expectations.

He has made plays at the hot corner that even the most hardened Orioles fans acknowledge are reminiscent of those made by Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson. He has hit like a seasoned vet, scratching out a .262 average in 51 games as a rookie before exploding this season. He is batting .331 in 2013 and .405 with 12 multi-hit performances in his past 19 games.

"I'm just having fun doing something I've dreamed about my whole life," said Machado, the third pick overall in the 2010 amateur draft. "I'm here on the big stage and I just enjoy the moment. I don't put pressure on myself. Because that's when you just dig yourself into a hole."

He has the right attitude, tremendous skills and fits in superbly with his teammates.

Now, the burning question is: How does he compare with the sport's elite young players — specifically, the reigning Rookies of the Year Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout and Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper?

"I really don't feel like you have to compare them," Wieters said. "I think you can just say they are three great players who are real young and, if they continue to improve, are going to be real special in this game for a long time."

Compare and contrast

Baseball is about obvious as well as incongruous comparisons — eras, players, positions, apples, oranges, cantaloupes — and right now a hot topic is whether Machado is as good as Trout, who nearly won the American League Most Valuable Player as a 20-year-old, and Harper, who was a Sports Illustrated can't-miss cover boy at age 16.

Machado "doesn't belong, for the moment, in the Trout/Harper discussions, because he just hasn't accomplished as much as what those two guys have so far," ESPN baseball analyst Tim Kurkjian said. "Last year — given what they did — was historic for Trout and for Harper, and it was not for Manny. But probably because he was not called up earlier in the year."

Machado has played just 89 games as a big leaguer. Harper has been in 173. Trout, 21, has appeared in 216. The trio's numbers through its first 89 MLB games, though, are remarkably similar. Machado actually has driven in more runs, hit for a higher average (albeit one point higher than Trout at .294) and tied Trout for homers (12, Harper had 10 in his first 89 games).

"Now, if you are discussing the 'best young players in the game' list, it is Harper, Trout and Machado leading that discussion," Kurkjian said. "You have to take in account that, last year, this kid was playing out of position, and when [Machado] was called up he was in a pennant race the second he got there. So he is in that discussion."

Five major league scouts — three from the National League, two from the American League and none from Washington, Baltimore or Los Angeles — were asked this week to rank those players in order of preference if they could select just one to build a club around.

"That's like asking me which Charlie's Angel I'd most want," one veteran scout quipped. "All three are so very good, young, talented and play the game the right way. If I got any of the three as a consolation prize, I wouldn't be disappointed."

Two scouts ranked the order as Harper, Trout and Machado; two had it Trout, Machado and Harper and one ranked it Harper, Machado and Trout. One scout said he'd take the Boston Red Sox's shortstop prospect, 20-year-old Xander Bogaerts, third, a spot ahead of Machado.

Other names that were mentioned included the Miami Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton, 23; Pittsburgh Pirates' Starling Marte, 24; and St. Louis Cardinals' Oscar Taveras, 20. But four of the five scouts polled said there is clearly a Big Three (with Machado included).

Both scouts who ranked Machado second and Trout first said they would flip-flop the two if Machado returned to his natural position of shortstop and played it as well as he plays third.

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