FREDERICK, Md. — With the Orioles wallowing in last place on the heels of a 3-6 road trip, I took the trip west on I-70 to take a peek at the newly-promoted Manny Machado in his Frederick Keys debut on Thursday night.
The 18-year-old shortstop didn’t disappoint.
In his second at-bat in high Single-A baseball, the Orioles’ top minor league prospect homered deep over the left-field wall to highlight a 1 for 4 night as the Keys fell to Winston-Salem, 2-1.
The unreasonable comparisons to Alex Rodriguez have been made since before Machado was taken with the third overall pick 12 months ago, but the Miami native looked a lot like the current Yankees third baseman as the majestic drive didn’t even spark a movement from left fielder Nick Ciolli, who watched it sail far over the wall with everyone else.
“I was just trying to be patient and trying to get a pitch to drive,” Machado said. “[Winston-Salem starter Cameron Bayne] gave me a fastball, and I put a little hop into it.”
Despite being the youngest player in the Carolina League, Machado showed the same patience at the plate he displayed when walking 23 times in 145 at-bats in Delmarva. His third-inning shot came on a 2-1 fastball from Dash starter Cameron Bayne.
“He’s got a pretty good idea at the plate,” Frederick manager Orlando Gomez said. “For a young player, he has a plan. He goes to home plate, he has a plan. He likes to look for certain pitches, situations, everything. That’s why he’s No. 1.”
Machado has struggled to regain his timing since missing a month with a left knee injury while with the Shorebirds. In 13 games this month, the young shortstop was hitting just .182 before going to the South Atlantic League All-Star game earlier this week.
The 2010 first-round pick was hitting .276 overall with six home runs, 24 runs batted in, and a .376 on-base percentage with the Shorebirds at the time of the promotion.
“I’ve struggled a little bit the last couple weeks, but I feel my swing getting back,” Machado said. “Hopefully, I can continue my progress up here and continue hitting.”
Defensively, Machado showed a strong throwing arm on a couple routine grounders, but was otherwise unchallenged by the Winston-Salem hitters. Many have speculated whether the 6-foot-2 infielder will eventually slide over to third base because of his size, but he’s looked relatively smooth in his limited minor league experience.
Machado joins fellow Keys infielder Jonathan Schoop, who is climbing up the prospect watch list with a combined .313 average for Delmarva and Frederick that includes eight homers, 41 RBI, and a .487 slugging percentage entering Thursday. Projected to eventually be a third baseman, the 19-year-old Schoop started at second base and was 1 for 4 with a single.
In a bit of good news for an organization short on positional talent in the minor leagues, Machado and Schoop were selected to represent the Orioles in the 2011 Futures Game in Phoenix as part of the All-Star Game festivities on July 10. The two join the likes of current Orioles Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, and Chris Tillman to participate in the game.
“I was hoping to get the call,” Machado said. “That was one of my goals this year. I’m pretty happy about that. I’m excited.”
At just 18 years old and already playing in Frederick, it’s clear Machado isn’t the only one excited.