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Orioles Make Manny Machado A Surprise Call-Up

Despite having the fourth worst run differential in the American League (-47), the surprising Orioles remain right in the thick of the AL East race thanks to their insane 22-6 record in one-run games and 12-2 record in extra-inning games. They're 4.5 games back of the Yankees in the division and tied for one of the two Wild Card spots because their dynamite bullpen (3.04 ERA) keeps them in every tight game.

The Orioles are not without their faults though, and through yesterday's game they had received some of the worst third base production in the league at .246/.319/.406. Wilson Betemit has seen the majority of the action at the hot corner, but Mark Reynolds, Robert Andino, Ryan Flaherty, and Steven Tolleson have also gotten some reps at third. With their first winning record since 1997 staring them in the face, Baltimore decided to recall top shortstop prospect Manny Machado from Double-A after last night's game with the idea of installing him at third. He's expected to be in today's lineup.

Machado, 20, was ranked as the 11th best prospect in the game by Baseball America this spring before placing ninth in their recent midseason update. The third overall pick in the 2010 draft has played exactly two games at third base in his minor league career, both this year at Double-A. The rest have been at shortstop with a few DH starts sprinkled in. The kid's going to be learning the position on the fly in the big leagues, which isn't an easy thing to do.

Furthermore, this isn't exactly a case of a player forcing the team's hand. Machado was having a very strong season in Double-A for a kid his age - .266/.352/.438 with 11 homers - but it's hardly a performance that screams "call me up, I'm big league ready!" That's why the move is very aggressive on the part of the Orioles, but they do deserve some credit for being gutsy enough to do it. New GM Dan Duquette seems intent on winning this year.

Machado is already shortstop-eligible in most fantasy leagues and will pick up third base eligibility soon enough. He's a legitimate power bat with some stolen base ability, but he's more of a middle of the order guy than a tablesetter, or at least he's expected to be in time. Dan Syzmborski's ZiPS projection system considered Machado a true talent .248/.303/.389 hitter (with 13 homers) at the big league level coming into the season, which is just a snapshot in time. That's the expectation for the 20-year-old kid jumping right into the show, not the 27-year-old future version in the peak of his career.

As excellent as Machado is as a prospect, he's not Mike Trout (or even Bryce Harper) and expecting that kind of immediate impact would be a setup for disappointment. He could always smash his way to a .300 average with eight or ten homers the rest of the way, but that would be the best case scenario in a relatively small sample. Expecting even a repeat of his Double-A effort might be asking too much. Shortstop is a pretty thin fantasy position however, and if you're willing to gamble on upside there are few better players to do it with. Unless you're in a long-term keeper league, I can't advise dropping an established producer for Machado this season, especially if you're in contention. It's easy to overlook the risk part of the high-risk/high-reward moves.




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