Third Base Profile: Manny Machado

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Following off-season knee surgery, how will Orioles third baseman Manny Machado respond?

Known for his defensive wizardry, Manny Machado's bat is often overlooked. In the fantasy world, that can lead to an all-around talented player slipping through the cracks on draft day. Machado followed up his big-league call-up in 2011 with more than 700 plate appearances in 2013, slashing .283/.314/.432 with 14 home runs, 88 runs, 71 RBI and six steals. While he didn't put up Trout-like numbers, Machado was the eighth most valuable third basemen in standard 5X5 rotisserie formats, putting up stats better than Pedro Alvarez and Kyle Seager, both of whom you will find ranked higher in the Official Fake Teams Consensus Rankings.

We must remember: Machado is 21 years old. 21! With Trout and Bryce Harper breaking into the big leagues so early, it's perhaps easy easier to come away unimpressed when a young player gets the early call and doesn't set the world on fire. Machado never dominated any single level in the minors, but he was pushed aggressively by the Orioles, surpassing Triple-A altogether en route to Baltimore. It's already evident that Machado has a good feel for the strike zone, with a .279 BA through 912 plate appearances. While his 4.2 percent career walk rate is on the low side, he did show better plate discipline in the minors with 96 walks in 213 games. On the plus side, Machado has only struck out in 16.6 percent of his plate appearances (the league average last year was 19.9 percent), and his O-Swing% and swinging strike rate both improved considerably from 2012 to 2013. Still, we'll need to see drastic improvements in the walk rate in order to project a .280 BA going forward.

Something everyone wants to know is, "Can Machado hit for more power?" The short answer is yes, but I'm not totally sure when breakout is coming. After connecting for seven home runs in 51 games in 2011, Machado hit 14 home runs in 156 games in 2013. That was 14th most at third base, but he also collected 51 doubles, second only to Matt Carpenter (55). Machado's career ISO is .156, which is right there with Seager (.159), who has back-to-back seasons with 20 home runs, and better than Chase Headley (.146), who has a 30-homer season on his resume. But, again, Machado is 21 years old, compared to 26 for Seager and 29 for Headley. There is still plenty of time to develop more power, especially in a favorable hitting environment like Baltimore. While early forecasts for 30-plus home runs might have been on the high side, I think Machado can regularly hit 25 home runs in his prime, but that might not come for another three or four years at the earliest. He still needs to grow into his power, which is mainly on the pull side (13 of 14 home runs in 2013 were classified as "pull").

In keeper and dynasty leagues, Machado is a definite "hold." You likely acquired Machado at little cost, and there's no reason to shop him aggressively at this point, when his value is the lowest. Complicating the issue was a terrifying knee injury that ended Machado's 2013 prematurely in late September. He underwent knee surgery in October and is unlikely to be ready by Opening Day, as Baltimore will bring him along slowly to ensure a return at full strength. Because he's expected to miss time, that takes away one of Machado's biggest assets from last year: his playing time/plate appearances. He put up 88 runs and 71 RBI in 710 plate appearances, which was the seventh most in baseball. Without those at-bats, it's hard seeing Machado reaching those marks in 2014.

The Fake Teams' writers have Machado ranked 11th at third base, with a high ranking of eight and a low of 16. I have Machado at No. 10, but the injury he suffered last year does concern me. If Machado isn't progressing well enough through the spring, I might have to bump him down a few spots. I absolutely think that Machado will be a superstar one day, but that's very unlikely to show itself in 2014. I just wouldn't reach for him in re-draft leagues expecting a true breakout.

Rotobanter projection ($7.63): .276 BA, 78 R, 15 HR, 67 RBI, 6 SB

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