There are few problems in baseball as enviable as “what will we do with all our shortstops?” Depth at the shortstop position is enviable, as is a player of significant quality. The defensive rigors of the role are demanding enough to winnow down prospective candidates to only the finest defenders and also Derek Jeter.
The average shortstop in the big leagues owns a .251/.306/.374 line so far in 2013. That is pretty bad, far below a league-average offensive player. Manny Machado currently sports a slash line far better than the league-average shortstop, which makes sense since Manny Machado is neither average nor a shortstop. Not yet, at least.
Good shortstops are so hard to come by in the Major Leagues that the Baltimore Orioles signed J.J. Hardy to a three-year contract extension halfway through the 2011 season, even though they knew Manny Machado was one of the top prospects in baseball surging through their minor league system.
Machado was a big shortstop with all the tools, one who projected to stay at short for some time. The Orioles locked Hardy up knowing they could trade him and fetch a pretty penny if need be.
Instead of moving Hardy and installing Machado at short, the O’s made the unorthodox decision to move Machado to third base during their drive to the playoffs last season, tossing a 20-year old rookie into a pennant race while learning a new position.
As if to prove the validity of the defensive spectrum all on his own, Manny Machado has excelled at third base, playing terrific defense in just about every way. ESPN Stats & Info has a thorough breakdown of Machado’s defensive profile at third, highlighting his skills in nearly every capacity of the position. The piece quotes a scout who offers this glowing review:
“He is outstanding in all directions, with pop ups, relays, backhands and agility plays. He has a great throwing arm from all angles on the field, great feet, instinct-reactions and body control.”
Additionally, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN has a nice feature on Machado, praising the Orioles infielder for his intelligence on the field and off. Crasnick speaks to a different scout who witnessed the full range of Machado’s defensive prowess when Machado was still a shortstop in A ball.
“He went in the hole and made the [Derek] Jeter jump play twice. He went up the middle, pirouetted and made a play. And there was a play where the second baseman gave him a half-[hearted] flip and I said, ‘There’s no way he’s going to turn it,’ and he barehanded it and threw a rocket to first base. I think he’s going to be a superstar.”
The thing that most impresses me when I watch Machado play third is his ability to charge the slow roller. It seems like he’s made a half-dozen highlight-reel plays not unlike the one seen below.
The Orioles have plenty of options when it comes to Machado, Hardy, and their situation at short. Riding out the rest of Hardy’s contract isn’t a bad idea, as Hardy is a fine defensive shorststop in his own right. Moving Hardy as his contract nears expiration is also an idea worth exploring. There will be no lack of teams interested in picking up the then 32-year old for a stretch drive.
No matter how great Machado looks at third base (and he looks great), the Orioles really need to give him a shot at short before deciding he’s a third baseman forever. Shortstops are just too valuable and too rare a commodity to “squander” one at third base. Unlike the Toronto Blue Jays steady flirtation with the idea of moving Brett Lawrie to second base (which they should NOT do, defensive spectrum be damned), the step-up towards a premium position like shortstops is a gamble worth making.
So far in his young career, Machado’s shown the talent to make the move back to shortstop as seamless as his initial move away from that most-important position.
And the rest
The Diamondbacks will buy your feelings [Bleed Blue Crew]
The Battle of LA, fought tooth and nail…
— Mike DiGiovanna (@MikeDiGiovanna) May 1, 2013
…even if $200 million doesn’t buy what it once did
Dodger Stadium, bottom of the 9th. twitpic.com/cnihm3
— Dylan Hernandez (@dylanohernandez) May 2, 2013