Very few know Manny Machado the player and Manny the person better than Orioles third base/infield coach Bobby Dickerson.
He worked closely with Machado in the minors and he was one of the instructors that helped him convert from shortstop to third base in those early pregame sessions at Bowie last year.
I asked Dickerson what has made Machado so consistently good on defense at third. Dickerson provided some solid insight, but also some surprising insight as well. He thinks Machado can get even better on defense.
"It's a lot of things (that make him consistently good)," Dickerson said. "One thing is watching how J.J. Hardy prepares, how he focuses from pitch-to-pitch. Manny being a young guy, there are times when you can see him, I won't say lose focus, but kind of take a pitch off here and there. We stay on him about it and he understands that could be the pitch that's coming to you. He watches how Hardy goes about his business and arguably there is no one more prepared playing right now than J.J.
"Every pitch on defense, J.J. is locked in. He can be 0-for-4 and he is not taking anything for granted. Manny is still a process. A lot of times, he makes plays on pure ability. There is even more in Manny. I think there is some more range there. He has the ability, but he needs to continue to not take a pitch off. That is hard to do.
"There may be times when he is late with pre-pitch (routine) and a ball will catch him by surprise and it's pure ability that makes that play."
No doubt Machado has plenty of that pure ability. And Dickerson is watching Machado off the field as well, as more attention comes his way and there are more demands on his time for interviews and the like.
"I watch him intently because I know he's a 20-year-old young player that has a lot going on in his life right now," Dickerson said. "He's nationally known now with a lot of expectations. He has set the bar high for himself. To maintain that, it takes the focus to go along with all that ability."
It sure seems that Machado is handling his emerging stardom about as well as he handles any hot smash hit his way.
"I think he is staying real humble," Dickerson said. "We make sure he understands this game will get you. This clubhouse is a bunch of guys like that. For an environment for a young guy to come into for his first full major league season, you can't ask for better. You have professionals everywhere."