While many stat geeks have spent the last two seasons drooling over young Major Leaguers Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, they may have been overlooking a budding star that could end up having a better long-term chance of earning baseball immortality as a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Since the minute Manny Machado joined the Baltimore Orioles in August of 2012, he has given the team a legitimate star at a position that has been a revolving door for the more than three decades since Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson and then All-Star Doug DeCinces manned the hot corner in the 1960s and 1970s.
When Machado joined the Orioles on August 9, 2012, the Orioles were 60-51 and on the outside looking in of the playoff race.
With Machado sporting the leather at third base (Baltimore third basemen had made 24 errors in the first 111 games of the season, Machado had only 5 in the last 51) and registering some timely hits in his first exposure to major league pitching, the Birds went 33-18 over the remainder of the season and reached the playoffs for the first time since 1997.
He was even better during his first full season. Machado was among the top hitters in the league for the first four months of the season and earned a spot on the American League All-Star team.
Ultimately, Machado finished the season with a .283 batting average, 14 home runs, 71 RBI, 189 hits, 88 runs scored and a league leading 51 doubles. He also earned his first Gold Glove award while regularly making magical plays at third base.
While the Orioles didn’t make it back to the playoffs, they did finish with an 85-77 record for their second-straight winning season.
Unfortunately for Machado, his season ended a week early as he suffered a serious leg injury against the Tampa Bay Rays. While the injury appeared gruesome, every indication has been that it was a relatively clean injury and following rehab he should be ready near the beginning of the 2014 season.
There are two things that I consider to be most impressive about the early performance of Machado and indications that he could be even better in the future.
First off, Machado turned 20 years-old just a month before making his debut in 2013 was still the fifth youngest player in the majors. Secondly, Machado was chosen by the Orioles with the third pick in the 2010 draft as a shortstop and had played third base in only two professional games before being inserted into the major league lineup during the heat of a playoff race.
It will be interesting to see if Machado eventually follows the blueprint of former Orioles star Cal Ripken Jr. and returns to his natural position or if the Birds decide to make him the cornerstone of the infield in a similar manner to what was done with Robinson during the golden era of the Orioles during the 1960s and 1970s.
Regardless, if Machado is able to build on the great combination of offense and defense he has displayed during his first 200 Major League games it certainly is possible that he could one day have a plaque in Cooperstown.
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