The Baltimore Orioles are gaining steam in the crowded AL East race and a big reason is the re-emergence of third baseman Manny Machado is one of the game’s brightest young stars and its best young third baseman.
Machado came to the major leagues in the latter part of the 2012 season. At the age of 19 he helped a surprise team make a run to a wild-card berth. The overall numbers weren’t great—only a .294 on-base percentage, with a more respectable .445 slugging percentage. But the potential was there and the electric defensive skills were undeniable, prompting comparisons to Oriole legend Brooks Robinson.
The numbers moved modestly in his first full season in 2013. Machado nudged the OBP up to .314, though the slugging percentage slipped a bit to .432. But considering that this was done with a full season worth of plate appearances at a point when the league had gotten a look at him, it was a sure sign that the 20-year-old was on his way.
Then came a horrific leg injury at the very end of that season that saw Machado strapped to a stretcher and taken off the field. His future was in doubt, and one wondered if he was going down to the path another Beltway-area young star who had his career cut out from under him thanks to a terrible knee injury. I refer of course to Washington Redskins’ quarterback Robert Griffin III.
Machado missed the start of what was a troubled 2014 season for him personally, even as the Orioles won their first AL East title since 1997 and advanced to the American League Championship Series. When he got back to the lineup, it took some time for him to find his groove and when he did appear to be coming around, another injury ended his season.
The final stat line was .324/.431, which wasn’t bad given the circumstances, but more troubling was issues that seemed to be jumping up surrounding his temperament. He was suspended for five games for throwing a bat towards then-Oakland A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson and trying to make it appear as a swing, after a little dustup with Donaldson earlier in the game was followed by a pitch thrown at Machado’s feet.
Baltimore manager Buck Showalter publicly rebuked the young third baseman and Machado subsequently apologized.
All of this combined to take the bloom of Machado’s rose when the 2015 season began, but he’s come out and made a good case for himself to be the American League’s All-Star third baseman. He’s shown improved patience at the plate, befitting where he’s at in this stage of his development and his OBP has jumped to a solid .360. He’s hitting for more power and is slugging .511. That’s to say nothing of the nightly defensive display he puts on for the good people of Camden Yards.
The third base spot in the American League has quietly become a stacked position. Machado’s old sparring partner Donaldson, now in Toronto, has a good case himself. Kansas City’s Mike Moustakas is the beneficiary of the ballot-stuffing gambit in his hometown and is also enjoying a breakout year of his own at age 26. Any of these three offer a good argument for having the best season of any AL third baseman thus far.
And we haven’t even gotten to Evan Longoria. The Tampa third baseman doesn’t have the greatest numbers, but they’re still pretty good and if you believe in a career resume as part of your All-Star vote, he’s got the best. Even if you go further down the line to those who aren’t All-Stars you find former World Series MVPs like Pablo Sandoval in Boston and David Freese with Anaheim. There’s a high quality of third base being offered in the American League these days.
I don’t know if Machado should be the starter—I tend to be career-oriented in my vote and am sympathetic to Longoria. But Manny Machado is one of my favorite players in all of baseball and even with Moustakas only being 26, and Donaldson and Longoria still in their prime at 29, I have no hesitation in saying that Machado is the third baseman I would take if I was building a team for the next five years. And whether it’s as a starter or reserve, he deserves to be in Cincinnati for the All-Star game.