SARASOTA, Fla. - When Manny Machado came to spring training last year, he was a top prospect on the rise, but his locker was not even in the main clubhouse and he knew he was not going to be a big leaguer on opening day. But after a season where he went from Double-A Bowie to the Orioles to the playoffs, he does admit he is more comfortable and established here now. However, you still can't get him to even acknowledge that he will be the starting third baseman come opening day.
"I do feel like part of this team," he said this morning. "But I am still going out there to earn a spot on this team and show Buck (Showalter) I can still play."
Spoiler alert. He can still play and he'll be starting at third April 2 against Tampa.
Machado, who hit .262 with seven homers, 26 RBIs and a .739 OPS in 51 games after his Aug. 9 callup, will not even turn 21 until July 6.
Last season, in just his second major league game, at 20 years, 35 days old, he became the first player in modern major-league history (since 1900) to hit two homers and a triple in his first two career games in the majors. He also became the first AL player with two multi-homer games at the age of 20 or younger since Ken Griffey Jr. in 1989.
Despite what had to be an amazing 2012 season for him, he didn't take much time over the winter to look back and enjoy it after the year finally ended in October.
"You know what, not really," he said. "It sunk in once the offseason was over that I was in the big leagues and had just played in a playoff game at such a young age. It was an amazing experience and something I cherish at such a young age. Hope that experience helps me in the future. But then, you know, it went away and I just started getting mentally and physically prepared for this season."
The solid defense Machado played last year has carried over for him. In fact he made a play in a game the other day that may be his best as an Oriole. He ranged deep to his backhand side near the line and made a strong, off-balance and accurate throw to first. For you older fans, think Brooks Robinson in the 1970 World Series.
"I think that has to be up there, yeah, (as one of my top defensive plays)," Machado said. "I don't know how I threw the ball. They say I wasn't even looking to first when I threw it, but that has to be one of the top ones, yeah."
Machado said playing next to and with shortstop J.J. Hardy has been a big help for him.
"You learn a lot when you see him play," Machado said. "How he plays the game and goes about his business. Mostly, his work ethic, how he works every day. He has a routine and this game is all about routines. Seems I learn something new from him every day."
Machado said he thought there could be some rough days when he was moved to third base upon his callup, but that didn't happen.
"I didn't imagine it would go that well, I thought I would struggle a little bit over there last year," he said.
He played so well at third that some wonder if he will stay at that position in the future. Or if at some point, the Orioles need another shortstop, does Machado think he will be back there?
"You know, hopefully, you always think about me trying to go back over there, but my mindset right now is just play third base," Machado said. "That is the only thing on my mind, get better there. If I stay there, I stay there. If not, just go back to how I used to play."