Domenic Vadala: Serving up the youth movement

I’ll be as frank and up front as I possibly can in saying this: I’m not a big fan of youth. At 32, some people might ask what I mean by that, given that I’d like to hope that I’m not that old myself. However, when it comes to athletes, I like guys with a bit of experience. I’m not suggesting that the Orioles should nab other teams’ good players out from under them as Boston and New York have done for years. What I am saying is that I like players that marinate a bit in the minor leagues and get their share of experience before coming up.

As a general rule, I do believe in bringing home-grown players through your minor league system, which is what the O’s did for years (the Oriole Way) and are now starting to do again. With that said, I didn’t think that they should have promoted Manny Machado last year. My thought process was that perhaps 2013 would be the year we could expect to see Machado in the show. When he came up last August, Machado had just turned 20; there’s no way someone that age had the tools as a player or a person to play at the major league level. I always knew that Machado had the tools to be a potential Hall of Fame-caliber player; I just didn’t feel that he had the tools quite yet.

Perhaps more importantly, I didn’t think that he had the maturity to be up in the big leagues. Many players, including Jim Palmer, have been in the show at Machado’s age. However, I feel that it takes a special person to handle that kind of responsibility, and you never really know whether the person is ready for that until he gets there. I’ve always suggested that it’s not a risk worth taking, especially in the Orioles’ case, being in a pennant race last year. However, Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter were willing to run that risk - and they were right to do so. Hands down, the Orioles don’t go to the playoffs in 2012 without Machado, nor are they as competitive as they’ve been in 2013.

At the time, one of my big concerns was that Machado would need more seasoning in the minors (either in terms of skills or maturity) and the Orioles would have already started his big league clock. Luckily, that hasn’t been an issue because Machado has handled himself well on the field and off. And I would add that in playing big league baseball at 20, he’s probably handling himself better in terms of maturity than a certain writer currently in his early 30s would have done.

The same is true with Mike Trout out in Anaheim and Bryce Harper in Washington. Harper especially concerned me, due to some of his actions on the field such as drawing a line in the dirt in a college game, and blowing a kiss toward a pitcher on a home run trot as a minor leaguer. And again, bringing a player up this early also starts his big league salary arbitration clock. (In Trout’s case, he did go up and back down once.) However, that’s a risk that the O’s, Nats, and Angels took. Lady luck often smiles on daring ones, I suppose.

The play which might well always define Machado will be the fake to first, and throw to third against Tampa Bay last year. One can hope that, moving forward his career, Machado is defined more by winning World series rather than that one play, but I digress. Machado’s glove has been unbelievable since he’s been in the majors, and he’s a shortstop playing third base. Here’s some even better news: It appears that things are getting better. His fielding percentage was .967 last year and he’s fielding .980 now. Offensively, Machado hit .262 in the majors last year, and he’s currently hitting .309. He had an OBP of .294 in 2012, and that’s up to .352 in 2013. So the already mature 20- year-old is getting better by the day it seems.

I wasn’t wrong about the youth movement with regard to Machado, I was dead wrong. In case you didn’t notice, he was pretty clutch for the O’s over the weekend in Anaheim. FOX broadcasters, at one point, compared him to Brooks Robinson - high praise for anyone, but especially a third baseman for the Orioles.

Domenic Vadala blogs about the Orioles at Birds Watcher, and his opinions appear here as part of’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 but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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