The most exciting news I’ve heard all season came yesterday, and it was courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles. As a Yankee fan, it’s unusual I would support another A.L. East team, but in truth I’ve always liked the Orioles. It’s not a result of just my geography or my Orioles-loving/Yankees-hating husband; Brady Anderson and (of course) Cal Ripken, Jr. were some of my first favorite players in the game.
My favorite young player in MLB right now is Orioles 3B Manny Machado, who reported to the Orioles spring training complex in Sarasota yesterday after his second consecutive season-ending knee surgery. In an interview, Machado reported feeling “great” both mentally and physically, and for the first time of this off season, I felt generally excited for the upcoming 2015 season.
That isn’t to say I’ve given up hope on the Yankees and am becoming an Orioles fan – far from it. Even though I hope the Orioles do well, I will always want the Yankees to do better and win the division (and hopefully more). Still, this season has left me somewhat disappointed with the departure of three of my favorite Yankees from last season (Shane Greene, Brandon McCarthy and David Robertson).
The first time I saw Machado play, he immediately reminded me of a young Alex Rodriguez (think superstar rookie in Seattle, long before PEDs). Ironically, the two players are actually quite similar: they’re both Dominican and raised in Miami by single mothers, both drafted out of high school and worked through the minor leagues quickly, and both started at SS before moving to 3B. They’ve even had the same agents (first Scott Boras and later Dan Lozano) and both wear #13. Despite a large age difference (39 and 22) the two are also reportedly friends, and Machado has credited Rodriguez for giving him advice on hitting and fielding. Naturally, I would be curious about a young player so similar to my favorite player in his early years.
After being selected third overall in the 2010 draft, Machado was promoted to the Orioles by August 2012 at only 20 years old. His breakout season came the following year when he won the A.L. Gold Glove, the A.L. Platinum Glove, and chosen to the A.L. All Star Game. At the plate, he broke Ty Cobb’s record for most multi-hit games for a player under 21, and his 44 hits in May 2013 is second only to Mickey Mantle (46) for hits in one month, also for a player under 21 (Machado turned 21 in July 2013). Machado accomplished all of this despite his season ending prematurely on September 23 with the first knee injury. His 2014 season was shorter (returning from the DL May 2 and sustaining the second knee injury on August 11), although his overall stats are similar to 2013 at about half as many games played.
Even for such a young player (Machado will turn 23 this season), two serious knees injuries/surgeries and not yet playing a full season in his career can be concerning. The left knee injury in 2013 in considered to be a fluke by many – hitting first base at an awkward angle and twisting his leg – and prior to the injury, Machado had played in 207 consecutive games. The 2014 injury to the right knee happened against the Yankees, a game my husband and I were pitted against each other watching at home. One thing we could agree on that night was that there should have been a rain delay. No delay was called and the rain continued. When Machado swung the bat (and grounded out to SS) his leg twisted and he immediately fell to the ground before leaving the batter’s box. My personal opinion is the ground was just slippery enough because of the rain, causing his leg to turn in such a usual way, leading to the injury.
It is worth noting Machado has a few other minor on field issues, which includes an ejection in June 2013 for arguing a called strike (the only innings he missed during the 207 consecutive games played) and a two day rift with the Oakland A’s in June 2014. The first day, Machado argued with A’s 3B Josh Donaldson about a tag he had applied to Machado while running to third. The next day, Machado threw his bat after A’s pitcher Fernando Abad pitched him inside – resulting in fines and a 5 day suspension for Machado. While I generally support Machado, I do disagree with a few of his actions and attribute those bad decisions to his age/inexperience.
Machado is the first of three Orioles (along with Chris Davis and Matt Wieters) expected to return to the team this season. The fact that he is so optimistic about his return is even more exciting for fans because he is so young, has shown great potential already, and could be the future of the franchise since he doesn’t become a free agent until 2019. Since his second knee surgery in August, Machado has reportedly been rehabbing all off season, aside from a month break for his wedding and honeymoon. (He married best friend and Padres 1B Yonder Alonso’s sister.) His approach to returning, along with Orioles staff and his surgeon, seems to be very practical and well planned to adjust to real games and his two brand new knees. A video was posted after Machado’s workout Wednesday showing him not just standing, but running the bases – a very welcome sight for Orioles fans.
With two freak injuries behind him and working with two new joints, hopefully Machado’s difficulties are behind him. If he has appropriately rehabbed after the most recent surgery, and plays well enough to match his confidence level, there is no doubt in my mind that he will continue to have a very successful career. He will obviously continue to mature – but the raw talent is already there. I am very excited to see him back on the field, and even more excited to see where his career takes him.