Manny Machado was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles to play shortstop. Picked third overall in 2010 behind a guy named Bryce Harper, Machado was set to join Cal Ripken among baseball’s best offensive shortstops. If there was ever a place for the legacy of the power-hitting, tall shortstop to be carried on, it was in Baltimore.
Machado was a shortstop in the minor leagues, and he did make a lot of errors — 19 in 2011 and 22 in 2012. His .954 fielding percentage in the minor leagues showed he wasn’t quite ready to play the position when the Orioles called him up to the big leagues for the first time in 2012. Though he oozed star potential at the position, the safe bet for the Orioles was to get him in the lineup at third base where he could continue developing in the field with slightly less pressure. That’s the cost of doing business when calling up a 19-year-old in the heat of a pennant race. The Orioles already had a Gold Glove winning shortstop in J.J. Hardy, so why mess with success?
Third base was very good to Manny Machado, very good indeed.
There are many worse ways you could spend seven minutes of your life than watching Manny Machado do what he has done at third base. Machado won the 2013 Gold Glove at third base and gave the Orioles a ridiculous 4.3 dWAR. In his career, he’s saved the Orioles between 15 and 20 runs with his defense depending on which metric you use. If not for another knee injury last season, Machado would likely have two Gold Gloves. There’s a very good chance he will get that bookend Gold Glove this season.
Last night, with Hardy on the shelf with a groin injury, Machado made his long awaited debut at shortstop. He had appeared at the position for an inning two weeks ago against the Minnesota Twins and made a crucial error as the Twins completed the four-game sweep. Against the Tampa Bay Rays, Buck Showalter finally wrote a “6” next to Machado’s name in the starting lineup.
Immediately, Machado looked comfortable at shortstop. He started a double play and made a highlight reel pick and throw on a groundball in the hole. There was a bounce in Machado’s step in the field — something that could not be said about most of his lifeless teammates — and he was clearly energized to be back at his natural position.
Even if Hardy returns from the disabled list before the end of the season, Machado should continue to play shortstop. The Orioles drafted him to play there, and it is his natural position. He was not ready to handle the role of Major League shortstop when summoned to the big leagues, but he is now. Hardy has seen his slow decline hastened by nagging injuries yet again this season. His range has taken a hit, and he has lost a step. Hardy’s bat has dragged through the zone all year, resulting in little power. For the final two years of his contract, Hardy needs to play third base to preserve whatever offensive value he can bring to the Orioles. With Machado blossoming into one of the best fielders in the game regardless of position, it is no longer possible to justify playing him out of position.
There are only 31 games left in the 2015 season for the Baltimore Orioles. What is turning into a forgettable season can be brightened somewhat by seeing what Manny Machado is really capable of at shortstop. He has already taken massive strides as a hitter and shown huge maturation as a player. Making the switch back to shortstop with no pressure as the Orioles play out the string, is the only logical choice to complete what has been a very good 2015 season for at least one member of the Orioles.