Thursday afternoon the Baltimore Orioles placed injured second baseman Brian Roberts on the 60-day disabled list, optioned right-handed pitcher Steve Johnston to Triple-A Norfolk, and promoted 20-year-old uber-prospect shortstop Manny Machado from Double-A Bowie, in expectation that he acts as Baltimore’s everyday third baseman. Machado, the Orioles 1st round selection (3rd overall) in 2010, is recognized by most scouts as the top middle infield prospect in the minor leagues and one of the top 5-10 prospects overall. Prior to his promotion, Machado was batting .266/.352/.438 with 11 home runs and 13 stolen bases in 402 at-bats this season in the pitcher friendly Eastern League.
Manny Machado has risen quickly through the Orioles minor league system due to his prodigious talents, in particular his strong throwing arm, impressive defensive skills, and above-average bat speed and hitting skills with developing power. Scouts envision Machado at his peak as an above-average defensive shortstop with a .280-.300 batting average and 20-25 home run power. With only 219 games and 820 at-bats above the high school level, in addition to his solid but not overwhelming statistics in Double-A this season, the knee-jerk reaction is the Orioles are rushing Machado to the major leagues.
The Orioles find themselves, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, currently tied with the Detroit Tigers and Oakland Athletics with a record of 60-52 atop the wild card race in the American League. Many are still skeptical of the team’s fortunes thus far this season, as they have a run differential of –53, they lead the major leagues in errors with 87, and their team ERA is T-16th at 4.06. In addition, the Orioles have gone a staggering 22-6 in one run games and are 12-2 in extra innings games this season. Upon closer inspection, the Orioles have also struggled at third base in 2012, as 5 different players have spent time there (Andino, Betemit, Flaherty, Reynolds, and Tolleson) and defensively they have a combined .914 fielding percentage and 24 total errors, and offensively, the team has seen only mediocre production with a .246/.319/.406 batting line with 13 home runs and 42 runs batted in. In order to improve defensively and upgrade the position overall therefore bettering the team, the Orioles intend to shift Wilson Betemit from third base to the primary designated hitter, leaving Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis to share at-bats at first base, and making Machado the everyday third baseman.
Although Machado has played shortstop the vast majority of his career, his soft hands and strong arm should allow him to quick adapt to third base and he instantly improves the Orioles defensively over Betemit and others. If Buck Showalter slots him at the bottom of the order, thereby placing little to no pressure on him, he stands a reasonable chance to match or surpass the .245/.319/.406 the team has manufactured thus far in 2012. That said, there is little reason to believe his numbers will be demonstrably better than what he has produced in Double-A this season, and as has occurred countless times in baseball history (Pedro Alvarez, Joba Chamberlain, Lastings Milledge, Justin Smoak, etc.), there is a real chance of hindering a prospect long-term by rushing him to the majors without sufficient maturation time in the minor leagues. Considering the remote but real possibility of this stunting his long-term development, it is unwise for the organization to promote Machado in hopes of improving the team’s defense at third base, a position he has rarely played in his life, and realizing a potential 30-50 additional points in total OPS – even this best case scenario would result in less than a one game improvement overall in the standings over the final 50 games of the season. In light of this, besides whatever intrinsic value a team places on the optimistic message you are sending to your fan base that “The organization is doing everything we can to win”, it is difficult to support the Orioles decision to elevate Manny Machado to the major leagues at this time.
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