SARASOTA, Fla. -- There is a lot riding on this season for the Orioles.
There are some new additions, most notably right-handed starters Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner, as well as several key players who are trying to bounce back, like sluggers Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo. Some prominent members of the organization are also entering the final season of their contracts, including manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette.
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But all eyes will be on superstar Manny Machado, who is about as must-see as it gets in Baltimore and may be embarking on his final season with the club that selected him with the third overall pick in the 2010 Draft. Machado is expected to command top dollar this offseason, but first, fans will get to see him back at his natural position -- shortstop.
"I remember when Cal [Ripken Jr.] and [Alex Rodriguez] were the only guys who were over 6-foot-4 playing shortstop; now you see that a little more," Machado's brother-in-law, Indians first baseman Yonder Alonso, said earlier this spring. "I know [Machado is] a special breed. He's a special guy who works very, very hard at his craft, always wants to get better, always wants to help people around him get better.
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"He is definitely a special player. He's going to be fun to watch."
Of course, Machado's performance isn't the sole factor in determining the Orioles' success this season. Machado, who won a Platinum Glove at third base in 2013, is re-energized by his shift to shortstop this spring. He'll get more action at short, where he'll try to emulate the confident work of predecessor J.J. Hardy.
Machado is the player to watch for the O's for many reasons, although his position shift adds another interesting wrinkle for the club with the move of former shortstop Timothy Beckham to third base.
"Manny has had a good spring; Tim has had a good spring," Showalter said on Friday. "I don't know what else they can do to make us feel good about it."
As long as Beckham, who is recovering from a minor groin injury, is ready for Opening Day next Thursday, the left side of the Orioles' infield will be fun to watch.