For Manny Machado, it all started in early June. What began then at Double-A Bowie was a process of Machado starting to take early work before batting practice at third base and it all eventually led to his call-up to Baltimore, where the natural shortstop would play third base.
He is playing there after starting in all of two games this year at Bowie at third.
But Machado obviously took to the position and the Orioles’ minor league coaches could see in early June that he would do well at the position if he was asked to play there for the Orioles.
O’s minor league infield coordinator Bobby Dickerson spent quite a few days working with Machado at Bowie during those sessions hours before the start of a game, where Machado would take the field as the Baysox shortstop.
“I saw a guy that had an uncanny ability to take instruction and apply it,” Dickerson said of Machado and his pregame work at third base. “His aptitude and work ethic is really good. And he has so much natural abilility. He can slow the game down for a young guy.
“There were times when I would come in and they had come off a long road trip or something and he’d say, ‘Let’s get some work in over there today.’ He was definitely engaged in doing it.”
Machado also worked with Brian Graham and the Baysox coaching staff, including manager Gary Kendall and coach Denny Hocking.
Dickerson said no one said to Machado that he might wind up playing third base in Baltimore but it was presented to him in a “This is something we should work on. You never know” scenario.
In the 20-year-old Machado, he found a very willing pupil.
“Absolutely, 100 percent. Been teaching infield a long time. The thing the good ones have in common is their ability to apply what they are learning and to do it,” he said.
From opening day through Aug. 8, Orioles third basemen combined for 24 errors and were last in the majors with a .914 fielding percentage. Since the Orioles selected the contract of Machado on Aug. 9, he has played every inning at third base, making just two errors for the third-best fielding percentage among AL third basemen (.982) and the Orioles have made just 12 errors, for a .991 fielding percentage, tops in the American League.
Dickerson said everyone knew Machado had the physical tools to be a good defender, but he picked up the mental aspects of the position quickly, as well.
“Shortstop, you come to the ball a lot, you play everything in front and work to the ball and your pursuit angles are different,” Dickerson said. “Third base, you are almost a goalie. You are reacting side to side. If you look at Manny, he does a good job at drop-stepping (stepping back a step) to create angles. Some drills we did to create those angles, he picked up on it. His natural ability, he just gets it. Wish they all were like that.”
One question a lot of fans were asking me this year was about Machado’s high error total. He made 23 errors in 109 games at shortstop at Bowie.
“There is a maturity factor that goes into youth play,” Dickerson said of that error total. “Look back at Derek Jeter. It is not always a physical thing. Long road trip, he may flip a ball over to first. I watched him make two one night that were as routine as routine gets, but he kind of took the play off. A young type mistake. Those errors were not physical things.
“But when we were talking about him coming here (to Baltimore), that came up. What about these errors? They didn’t concern me, because I believed his focus level would go up here. This whole team is so focused in doing their job the right way, it keeps him on his toes and locked in. And with J.J. (Hardy) next to him - he’s arguably the most fundamentally sound player I’ve ever seen, he’s an outstanding example for Manny next to him.”
Machado has clearly been solid and focused at third for the Orioles. It is also clear that the hard work he and the coaches put in hours before those games at Prince George’s Stadium in Bowie is now paying off.