There is a theory out there that the Orioles have rushed some of their prospects too fast to the big leagues in recent years and that is one key reason why some of that young talent may have struggled at times in the majors.
One thing to note here is that all players are different in some way, so an organization can have a general philosophy about promoting players in the minor leagues, but they also surely realize that some players can be moved faster than others.
Two of those players for the Orioles may be their top two prospects in pitcher Dylan Bundy and shortstop Manny Machado.
Last year, Machado started the season with Single-A Delmarva and was promoted to Single-A Frederick after just 38 games, playing his first game in the Carolina League on June 23, which was a couple of weeks before his 19th birthday.
Most of Machado's stats in the Carolina League took a drop from his time with Delmarva of the South Atlantic League. His batting average dipped from .276 to .245, his OBP went from .376 to .308 and OPS from .859 to .692.
Proving that the experts base a prospect's progress and talents on a lot more than just the stat sheet, Baseball America ranked Machado as the Carolina League's best prospect after last season despite his modest stats with Frederick.
The BA writeup on Machado said in part:
Machado didn't exactly set the Carolina League on fire, showing a little power and making the occasional spectacular play with his glove. That still did little to dissuade many who watched him from thinking that he'll end being quite special. One observer compared him to a puppy with big paws - he may be somewhat skinny and rangy right now, but one look at his massive feet gives a good indication that he'll be an imposing man one day.
When I interviewed him late last season, Machado said he never expected to hit .300 in the Carolina League and he seemed challenged by the older, more experienced pitchers he was facing there nightly. Also, in Machado's case, we should understand he spent most of last year coming back from a knee injury in May and perhaps never completely regained his pre-injury timing at the bat.
In the Carolina League playoffs, however, both Machado and Jonathan Schoop excelled. They helped carry that Frederick team to a league championship (along with some solid pitching) and the club's strong desire to win a championship was very evident to anyone, like me, who spent time in their clubhouse during the playoffs. Machado proved to me during those nine postseason games that he belonged in that league and the Keys team play was inspiring to watch. To me, moving Machado to Frederick was the right move.
In the postseason, he hit .344 with four doubles, a homer, five walks, eight runs scored, nine RBIs and an OPS of 1.010.
Sometimes, the best young talent needs to be pushed and challenged and figure out how to succeed against older, more experienced competition. That can be more beneficial than tearing up a lower league, posting imposing stats there and winning an MVP award.
They are going to struggle in the majors, so they better learn to deal with that and overcome it in the minors. For kids like Machado and Bundy, this will be the first time they don't just dominate nightly on the diamond.
With all this in mind, here is my take on what the Orioles should do with this duo this year:
I would like to see the dynamic, double-play duo of Machado and Schoop begin with Frederick with a possible move to Double-A Bowie after 40-50 games. I would expect them to produce some very solid stats with the Keys early on to carry them with momentum and confidence to the next level.
The Orioles, however, may be considering just starting the pair at Bowie from opening day on, figuring they will get there probably sooner rather than later anyway. We'll see on this one.
For Bundy, perhaps a half year each at Delmarva and Frederick would work best. If he excels at both levels, maybe he could even get a few games late in the year at Double-A Bowie. With Bundy, many seem to feel he can and will move fast through the minors and that is the path he appears to be on.
The fact he will likely be limited to around 120 innings also factors in with Bundy and the Orioles will have some decisions to make as to how and when they will use those innings for their prized, young right-hander.
What is your take?: How should the Orioles handle this pair this year? Is a more conservative approach needed or should they push the pair to be challenged at higher levels?