The Baltimore Orioles are playing meaningful games once again at Camden Yards. O's fans have been waiting patiently to cheer for an exciting club that plays games that count in September. The wait is over. From now until the end of the season, every game is crucial.
Part of the Orioles' rejuvenation is 20-year-old shortstop-turned-third baseman, Manny Machado. Baltimore selected Machado with its first-round pick (third overall) in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.
Machado played high school baseball at Brito Private High School in Miami. In his senior year, Machado hit .639 with 12 home runs and 68 RBIs over 29 games.
Machado played parts of three Minor League seasons in the O's organization prior to being promoted Aug. 9 of this season. Machado was playing at his highest professional level -- Double-A Bowie in the Eastern League -- when he was called up to Baltimore.
In the Orioles' Minor League system, Machado, known primarily for his projectable offensive ability, compiled a respectable .263 batting average in 928 plate appearances covering 219 games. Selected as a shortstop, Machado played all but two games at that position during his Minor League development. The others were at third base, where he now plays in Baltimore.
Whenever I've seen Machado play, he projected better to me as a third baseman rather than a shortstop. I'll elaborate more on that theme.
At 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds, Machado is rather large to be playing shortstop. Having just turned 20 this past July, he may still add height, weight and strength. For me, his physical stature is best suited to playing third.
Machado has trained with fellow Florida resident Alex Rodriguez, a player who Machado has always admired. In fact, Machado wears No. 13, the same as Rodriguez. Coincidentally, Rodriguez also switched from short to third.
Some people compare Machado's offensive game to that of Rodriguez. I am not one of those people. Instead, I compare Machado more to Miguel Tejada or Edgar Renteria. Both are excellent examples of contact hitters who are capable of using the entire field to spray the ball and hit the gaps with long, deep drives. That's what I've seen from Machado.
Like Tejada and Renteria, Machado's power should continue to develop. I think he will become an important, impactful hitter capable of driving the ball and driving in runs from the middle of the order.
Machado has a very even, level swing that he can consistently repeat. He has very quick hands and wrists, and the quick bat allows him to drive outside pitches to the opposite field or inside pitches to his pull side. His plate coverage and pitch recognition are advanced beyond his age.
Using strong wrists and knowing the importance of coordinating the rotation of his hips through his swing (in concert with his hands) has resulted in Machado's ability to make consistent contact with the sweet spot of the bat. Eventually, as he continues to mature physically, his barrel hitting will result in more power, and thus, more home runs.
Machado brings passion, a strong knowledge of the game and mature sophistication in his approach to playing baseball. He doesn't get fooled at the plate very often and he has shown an ability to recognize pitches and hit breaking balls, which are important qualities not usually seen in a player so young.
One factor in need of refinement is Machado's reluctance to take a base on balls. In his career, Machado has shown a preference for hitting his way on base rather than walking. That was his history in the Minor League system, and it is the same now that he is in Baltimore. To date, he has walked only twice in 109 plate appearances since his promotion.
Machado has had some important hits for the Orioles in his brief time in Baltimore. He has five doubles, three triples and four home runs among his 29 Major League hits. In his first month against the best pitchers in the world, Machado has a very respectable .274 batting average.
Baltimore is fortunate to have J.J. Hardy playing shortstop. As a result, the O's could move Machado to third and keep Mark Reynolds at first, a position where Reynolds appears to be more comfortable.
The Orioles' fine season has included contributions from Reynolds, Wilson Betemit and Ryan Flaherty as third basemen at one time or another. But the presence of Machado has stabilized the infield and added additional offensive firepower to the lineup. His ability to play third base has offered manager Buck Showalter more flexibility and solid defense at both corners, especially at third, where Machado is a better defender than Reynolds.
Machado's good, quick hands and baseball instincts suit him well as a third baseman. He reacts extremely well with good instincts and natural athletic ability.
Machado has a very strong and accurate arm -- a talent, along with his hitting ability, which may be among the best of all his tools. I like Machado better as a third baseman than as a shortstop because of his size, strength and arm. There were times at shortstop when I felt he was a bit slow getting to the hole to make the difficult play.
In that regard, he reminds me of the Tigers' Jhonny Peralta. Both have strong arms, but both lack quickness to the hole at shortstop. Machado shows similar offensive ability to Peralta, but he may be a better overall hitter for average with fewer pronounced up-and-down hitting streaks.
Because of an injury to his left knee earlier in his career, Baltimore will have to monitor Machado's health. Third base may be easier on him physically.
The O's have found a very suitable position for Manny Machado. At least for now, Machado is the third baseman they hope to ride to the postseason.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter.