09 August 2012

Thoughts on Machado; what I'm looking forward to seeing

It is an exciting time for Orioles fans.  Baltimore has taken care of business thus far on a 10-game home stand against teams of which they desperately need to take advantage.  Last night, after the O's fifth straight victory, it was announced that Dylan Bundy (rhp, #1 ranked Orioles prospect) was to be promoted from Class A Frederick to Double-A Bowie for his next start.  Moments later, a bombshell was dropped -- Manny Machado (ss, #2 ranked Orioles prospect) was being jumped from Double-A Bowie to Baltimore, and would debut today.

I was tempted to stay out of the fray for a few days.  The signal-to-noise ratio on Machado appraisals, and appraisals of the decision by the Orioles front office to make this promotion, is minuscule, with lots of comparisons to the likes of Elvis Andrus and Starlin Castro, some mentions of the struggles of Mike Trout in his first taste of Major League Baseball last summer (and of course his subsequent emergence as an elite producer in The League), cautionary references to Matt Wieters and his hot-cold three-plus years with the Orioles, and of course reference to Alex Rodriguez and his first 200 at bats as a teenager with the Seattle Mariners.

Machado is a special talent.  He has the natural ability, the pedigree, and the force of the national "prospect experts" behind him.  He has two MLB Futures Game appearances in his belt.  He has been among the youngest players in the league at each stop in his professional career and has held his own (even excelling for periods of time against much older competition).  As an amateur he was a focused and determined player, relying heavily on a strong support system in his family, teammates and amateur team coaches.  His grades on make-up at the professional level have been good, and anecdotal stories from scouts have been better.  All of the elements are here for Machado to step into the start of a long and exciting career.

I'm not going to use this space to temper enthusiasm, or to point out flaws in the comparisons that I referenced above.  This isn't the right environment for a tempered and analytical discussion on player development, evaluation and comparison of players across skill sets and periods of time, or projection systems estimating Major League performance based on minor league data.   No matter the manner in which they have come to find themselves here, the Orioles are in the playoff hunt in August and have just promoted their top positional prospect to the Bigs -- a prospect largely considered (among relevant evaluative reporters) one of the top ten in all of baseball.

Let the ulta-optimistic fans come up with reasons that Machado will be the difference in the O's making the playoffs.  Let the armchair evaluators break down "Machado's game" and how it will play in Baltimore.  Let the passing prospect fans make ill-fitting comps and let the .gif and YouTube crowd break down the same 45 second clips while providing "scouty" reports.  This is what happens when something transcendently exciting happens.  Everyone is interested and everyone would like to share their thoughts.  The promotion of a nationally recognized prospect is just such a transcendent occurrence, and that is nothing but a good thing for all baseball fans.

O's fans and baseball fans in general will now be treated with the opportunity to view Machado as often as the Orioles decide to play him.  Manny gets a taste of "the good life", staying at comfortable hotels, traveling first class or charter by plane and train, and playing against the best baseball players in the world in front of tens of thousands of people in person and hundreds of thousands of people via video.  I, for one, am looking forward to taking off my scouting cap (okay, it goes back on during the weekend -- there is still a lot of work to be done for my MLB org on the 2013 draft class) and just watching Machado play.  I hope would-be sports writers and bloggers, message board participants, and O's fans in general enjoy writing about and debating the merits of Machado's promotion.  I also hope they allow themselves the luxury of just sitting back and watching this promising Baby Bird take his first few steps.


No, I'm not going to hypocritically follow that up with a scouting report...Because I've been asked, here are a couple paragraphs highlighting what I'm most looking forward to seeing over the next few weeks.  After Labor Day, I'll post my in-depth thoughts on Machado the Major Leaguer.  For the next few weeks, I'm 100% in observation (fan) mode (sorry).

Machado has been working out at third base for some time at Bowie, despite limited in-game action there.  No amount of side work prepares you for balls off of Major League bats at the hot corner, but Machado has very soft hands, a cannon for an arm, and a pretty good lower-half, all of which should help.  The biggest challenge for a shortstop making this switch at the Major League level (let alone while simultaneously jumping from Double-A) is adjusting to angles and letting go of control.

Angles, I think, are self explanatory.  The ball comes off the bat a little differently at third than at short, with a slightly different spin.  Because Major League infields are manicured differently than minor league infields, there is an additional adjustment to balls off of Major League grass.  Making those new reads is something that can only be accomplished through reps.  I look forward to seeing Manny's pre-game infield and, what I assume will be, regular additional reps during BP.  I look forward to seeing growth in this part of his game the longer he's at the five-spot.

"Letting go of control" speaks to a difference in approach between third and short.  Shortstops, for the most part, have the freedom to create their lines and their hops.  The difference between an average shortstop and a good shortstop, and between a good shortstop and an elite shortstop, is largely instinctual.

The best shortstops have a comfort level in the field that allows them to be creative in the lines they take in order to put themselves in the best position possible to complete a play.  At third, Machado will often have to let go of the urge to create those lines and hops and get used to playing the ball as it's hit.  There is less room (and less time) to maneuver, which means more importance is placed on soft hands, quick actions, and proper positioning.  It is a challenging switch to be sure, and watching a talent like Machado make those adjustments should be fun.

At bat
There is little mystery here.  I am looking forward to seeing Machado apply a general solid approach to Major League pitching.  He'll get to pick the minds of O's hitters and coaches and will be in a position to make rapid adjustments.  At the same time, he will be facing the best pitching he has ever faced.  I could hazard an estimate at OPS, while pointing out the areas I think are most likely to challenge the young infielder, but that can wait for the post-Labor Day piece.  Right now it is very, very simply -- I want to see how Manny sees the ball; I want to see how Manny hits the ball.

I'll check in tomorrow with some thoughts on tonight's game; Happy Machado Day O's fans!


Philip said...

He's too young.
The Rangers brought up Mike Olt, Martin Perez, and Justin Grimm from double A, and all have done well.
But none has been outstanding. Mike Olt cost the Rangers a game when he threw a slowly hit routine DP ball into deep center field.
Each is playing for a superb team with no real holes and the best record in the AL...pressure, yes, but not the same as what is expected of Manny.
He is literally expected-though everyone is denying it-to come and be the missing link, the risen Messiah, the Ubermensch.
Too much pressure.

I'd prefer they wait, enjoy the season, and finish above .500 and the Sox(and apprently the Jays as well!)

The Orioles are in Arlington next week... I'll root for the Rangers, but I'll be conflicted.

Bret said...

It is like the joke when a bear is chasing you you don't have to run faster than the bear you have to run faster than your friend. Machado doesn't have to be great, he doesn't have to be good, he has to be better than a guy who strikes out 27.2% of the time and plays the worst 3rd base in baseball by far.

My only question and the only question that should be asked is will he be better than Betemit ROY? If the answer is yes, it is the right move. If you believe it to be no I will argue all night, but either way it isn't arguable that they don't need him to be Pie Traynor in order to be a better team. And if they are even slightly better at this point in the season given their record it is the correct move.

Nick J Faleris said...

It'll definitely be fun to see Machado over at third base. I think fans who haven't yet seen him are going to really enjoy watching him defensively, even if he's a bit uneven.

Bret said...

Dave Cameron has an article up at Fangraphs about it which is must read and which I pretty much agree with 100%.

Betemit isn't a horrible hitter but he is a big liability in situations where you have guy at 3rd 1 out or need a runner moved up. You can only have so many of those guys and the O's have too many. If Machado can move runners, show a little pop, take his walks and put the ball in play rather than striking out in critical situations this will be a rousing success.

As far as defense, I can live with errors that come from inexperience or getting used to MLB game speed. I can't live with errors that come from rock hands or horrible footwork from guys that has been in baseball 7 or 8 years (Reynolds, Betemit).

Camden said...

As long as one believes that pushing a prospect aggressively does not hurt his development, this is a move with little downside. Machado will definitely be better than Betemit defensively. If he hits, Orioles get an upgrade. If he doesn't, Showalter will have to choose between offense of Betemit vs defense of Machado, or to platoon them like he has done with Andino and Betemit.

Jon Shepherd said...

Interesting that you agree with Cameron's article because it fits my opinion of Machado. He likely is not ready and is likely not an upgrade at third. I am indifferent about Machado's promotion. I would not have done it, but it is hard to come down hard against it because it just doesn't matter in all likelihood.

Basically, it is a prayer for lightning to come in a bottle. Maybe it will work and Machado crushes it. I doubt it. However, just because Machado may struggle it should not lessen what the fan base thinks of him. He is one of the best prospects in baseball.

Bret said...

The part I was referring to was the part where he says we have so few games remaining the standard deviation gives the O's a shot and they need to put the best team on the field. He also pretty much acknowledges that he isn't going to be worse than Betemit in all probability.

Look, I'm very much into sabermetrics and I understand the trend is that strikeouts are just outs and if you can hit for power, walk, etc. strikeouts are acceptable. However, I don't think you can have half a team built like that. For one, moving a guy over or getting him in from 3rd is a huge issue and a huge letdown to a team when you fail in those situations. For two, in the extra inning game on Tuesday Reynolds was up in a key situation that called for a bunt. But he can't bunt. Neither can Davis, neither can Betemit. You can't hit and run with any of them because you can't ever trust them to put the ball in play even if they are facing a pitching machine set to 60 mph. And you can include Andino in that as well. They are so inflexible and so easily pitched to, I just feel like the team needs to move in more of a direction of contact, versatility, maybe a little speed. 3 everyday guys who walk, have some power and do absolutely zero else just is too much. Machado will bring those elements.

But the final and biggest issue is this. Machado is going to be the opening day starter. Which probably means Bundy also. With those two, some health and some tweaks such as lighting Mark Reynolds on fire and replacing him with Casey Kotchman or a robot for all I care this team is a serious division contender. Yanks are year older, Red Sox are complete mess. The fact that service time isn't an issue and that we don't have to play catchup in May of next year was probably the best news of the past 36 hours.

Jon Shepherd said...

I hope you are right.

To me it looks like a window was accidentally left open this year.

John said...

I think it's premature to assume that Bundy will be on the opening day roster. Unless he obliterates AA and spring training next year, I think the O's will start him in minors next year and promote in the June timeframe when a full year of service time can be saved.

Bret said...

I agree about the window, at the same time with the win projection and everyone saying how bad the O's are.

#1. Your projection system has them playing like a 68 win team the rest of the way to get to 81. Their pythag is 72 win team.

#2. I realize every game counts and all that and there is no doubt they have gotten lucky. But part of the reason their run differential is so horrendous is they got killed on back to back nights by Texas after playing a 17 inning game the night before. To me this is somewhat of an extenuating circumstance. I think their true talent isn't 81 win team but not as low as their pythag.

#3. Not one offensive player is exceeeding preseason expectations. Jones is having a very solid year but a .371 w/OBA is not out of this world great. Markakis was hurt. Wieters still has not broken out the way I anticipated and Hardy has been terrible with the bat. And the other 5 positions all year have been completely worthless and you can include Betemit, Reynolds, Davis, Chavez, Ford, Avery, Roberts, Andino and everyone else into those 5 positions. My point is they can't be any worse, maybe by path of least resistance some will be a bit better. Maybe not. But the projections assumes they will keep being this bad offensively. I don't think they are and if they are I won't feel the least bit bad about them missing postseason.

#4. Bundy can be delayed for 20 days and only miss 3 starts and get an extra year FA. But if they bring him up in September it will be obvious that they are going to put the best team on the field opening day 2013 service time and future payroll be damned. To me this is a sign that Angelos is willing to open the checkbook some to keep their own players and maybe one or two smart FA without obscene age issues or money demands. Honestly think they will be a very good team in 13 if they put the best team on the field opening day and can stay healthy.

Ken Francis said...

Good first game for Manny. Looked very comfortable, nerves kept under check.

Now that the Orioles have brought up one super-prospect ahead of schedule, will Dylan Bundy be promoted if he tears it up at Bowie and the O's haven't faded by the end of the month? Stranger things have happened.

Off topic, but how about Matt Wieters bat these days? I think it's just a glimpse of what the future could hold for him. If he ever gets it all together at the plate, he could put up some monster numbers.

Jon Shepherd said...

Well, if you look at the games...they are excellent in one run games, .500 in games decided by 2-4 runs, and horrible in blowouts.

So, take from that what you will.

Bret said...

Wieters is a good catcher. 5 WAR is certainly valuable, that is what he was last year and that is what he is on pace for this year.

However, my concern is he isn't really a better hitter now at age 26 in his prime than he was at age 23 straight out of AAA. His w/OBA is identical. Yeah, his walk rate has improved and K rate declined a b it but the type of breakout you would expect in prime learning years is not materializing. At this age, Varitek and Posada had barely played at the big league level so maybe he still has a ton of room to improve. But I expected more this year.

Jon Shepherd said...

Player development is not always linear. Maybe Wieters has a huge break through coming.