It may not be until years from now that we truly understand how insane of a year 2012 was for MLB rookies. There are the headliners: Mike Trout and Bryce Harper -- who are basically just playing out the rest of their careers to find out what hats to wear in Cooperstown. Then you have potentially two of the best American League pitchers over the next five years in Yu Darvish and Matt Moore (not to mention Jarrod Parker, as well). La Potencia? Can't forget about him or his Core Strength. In the National League, there's Lance Lynn and Wade Miley, who combined to win 34 games. Not impressed with them, how about infielders Anthony Rizzo, Todd Frazier, Will Middlebrooks and Andrelton Simmons? And that's without even mentioning Jesus Montero, Yonder Alonso, Wilin Rosario and Starling Marte, among many others.
But one name which I deliberately did not put on that list belongs to the heir apparent to Cal RIpken Jr in Baltimore. Manny Machado was the 3rd overall pick in the 2010 draft, behind Bryce Harper and Jameson Taillon, but even that wasn't his first taste of high expectations. As a high schooler, he was thrown A-Rod comps due to the fact that he was a big SS with power potential from southern Florida. Of course, those kinds of expectations are ridiculous to start with, as A-Rod (regardless of what he's doing in this series) is one of the greatest players baseball has ever seen.
Comps aside, Machado has all the tools necessary to be a stud in the mold of the classic 90's offensive shortstop. He has great bat speed, potential plus power and a very good approach at the plate. Of course, some of that was on display during the first 202 plate appearances of Machado's career. The 7 HR was a great sign. The .294 OBP could use some improvement. But the most important number of all with Machado is 20. He not only did all of this at 20 years of age, but he won't turn 21 until right around the All-Star Break next season. With Trout and Harper exploding onto the scene, we've lost a little bit of reality around what can reasonably be expected of players that young at the major league level, but don't let that be lost on you with Machado. In fact, you don't even have to look far to see that players are meant to struggle at the beginning of their careers. Here's something interesting:
Manny Machado's first 202 PA: .262/.294/.445 with 7 HR, 2 SB, 18.8% K rate
Mike Trout's first 135 PA: .220/.281/.390 with 5 HR, 4 SB, 21.8% K rate
Yes, when Mike Trout came up in 2011, he was not the 2012 Mike Trout that we all are enamored with. He took his lumps, learned a few things and got a lot better. And while I don't expect Machado to put up Trout-like numbers next year, I do expect him to follow a similar pattern. That means I expect him to have legitimate success, not just success for a 20-year old.
So that leaves us with two main questions that we'll get into separately. First things first -- what will Machado be in 2013? From a fantasy perspective, you need to be aware of his eligibility, as that will make a huge difference in where he should be taken in drafts. If you can put him at SS, I think he's a legitimate top-10 option at the position. However, the biggest short-term detriment to Machado's value is that he will likely begin 2013 hitting in the bottom portion of the Orioles lineup again. Now, that could change within a matter of weeks if he hits like he's capable of from a skill level, but it may mean you have to set your expectations low as far as R/RBI.
However, from a long-term perspective, we're looking at a potential perennial first round pick in fantasy drafts. After J.J. Hardy's contract is up after the 2013 season, Baltimore is extremely likely to move Machado back to his natural position of shortstop, where he will be capable of putting up .290-30-15 seasons with upside to spare. After all, Machado was #4 on my mid-season dynasty league prospects list for a reason -- shortstops capable of that kind of offensive production don't exactly come around very often. If he's available in your keeper league draft, be aware that this may be your only chance to get him.
My way-too-early Manny Machado 2013 projection: .268 with 21 HR, 78 RBI, 67 R and 13 SB in 543 AB.