In many ways, 2009 seems like so long ago. Then, in others, it seems like just yesterday.
In watching every pitch of every at-bat of Manny Machado’s fantastic young major league career, I can’t help but think back to Matt Wieters’ call-up on May 29, 2009. I will never forget Andy MacPhail telling viewers on MASN, “It’s time,” after the Orioles’ 7-2 win on May 26, 2009 against the Toronto Blue Jays.
The two games in between the news and Wieters’ actual debut were an absolute frenzy. It was like the build-up to Christmas morning for Orioles fans, who hadn’t seen Baltimore produce a star position player through their minor league system in years.
Wieters was ESPN’s Keith Law’s highest-rated prospect in his preseason top 100 that season and Birds fans expected nothing short of a Hall of Fame career. Chuck Norris-like facts about the switch-hitting catcher and comparisons to Twins backstop Joe Mauer were written, heard on the radio, and seen on local and national broadcasts every where.
It was a truly exciting time for the Orioles who, despite being 23-26 and 5 1/2 games out of the race in the American League East, were the talk of baseball. Three years later, the team and its newest top position prospect find themselves in a completely different situation.
I think what I enjoyed most about Machado’s unexpected promotion was that no one had time to hype the 20-year-old infielder like they did with Wieters. No one saw the news coming. I was on vacation in Cooperstown, N.Y., when my phone exploded with texts from Orioles fans sharing the news with me. No three-day build up, just a promotion to improve the ballclub.
It could be a difference in general managers, but I obviously think the Orioles’ decision to bring up Machado has a lot more to do with their current situation than Wieters’ promotion did. The Birds were 60-51, 4 1/2 games back of the Yankees and in a three-way tie for the wild card when Machado got the call. They were looking for defensive help at third base and hoping for a little more offensive production, as well.
The American League co-Player of the Week has delivered just that in his first four games in orange and black. You know the stats by now: four games, 6-for-16 (.375 average), one double, one triple, three home runs and seven RBIs.
There was never a question that Wieters was ready to be called up when he made his debut, but Machado’s promotion came with a vocal group of doubters. Despite a nine-game hitting streak in which he batted .484 with two doubles, two triples, three home runs and seven RBIs at Double-A, many wondered if Machado was really ready for big league pitching.
Let’s be clear: Comparing the talents of Machado and Wieters isn’t exactly fair. Their positions are different as was their development process. “They’re very different talents,” Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus and ESPN told me. “If you think about it, if Machado went to college, he would have just finished his sophomore year. And then there is the positional difference between catcher and left-side infielder. I don’t think they’re really similar talents, other than the fact that both are/were elite prospects at the time of the call.”
But Orioles fans certainly didn’t expect Machado to hit the ground running like he has so far. No one anticipated comparisons to sure-thing Rookie of the Year/MVP Mike Trout of the Angels after Machado’s first four games.
Maybe Machado has been helped by the lack of pressure that Wieters received in 2009. Remember that Wieters was supposed to come up, become the face of the franchise and turn around a team that hadn’t had a winning season since 1997. Machado is just supposed to help out a contending team in its quest for the postseason.
So far he’s exceeded expectations and composes himself as a guy that belongs in a big league clubhouse.
Zach Wilt blogs about the Orioles at Baltimore Sports Report. His views appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.