With Machado as­cen­dant, hot cor­ner stays a bright spot

O’s have con­trol of third base­man for two more years, tal­ent in wings

Baltimore Sun - - MLB PLAYOFFS - By Jon Me­oli With the 2016 sea­son fin­ished, there’s no bet­ter time than the present to take stock of the Ori­oles’ or­ga­ni­za­tional depth at ev­ery po­si­tion around the di­a­mond. In re­cent days, we’ve been break­ing down ev­ery po­si­tion in­di­vid­u­ally and sep­a­rat

The man: The Ori­oles have the joy of run­ning out 24-year-old star Manny Machado at third base, and seem­ingly ev­ery time they do, he does some­thing that so­lid­i­fies his sta­tus as one of the game’s best young play­ers.

Machado, who fin­ished fourth in the Amer­i­can League Most Valu­able Player vot­ing a sea­son ago, put forth an ef­fort worth a sim­i­lar fin­ish this year by bat­ting .294/.343/.533 with a ca­reer-high 37 home runs and 96 RBIs. He made the All-Star team for the third time in his four full sea­sons, and pro­vided one of the more ex­cit­ing mo­ments of the year when he slugged Kansas City Roy­als pitcher Yor­dano Ven­tura af­ter a hit-by-pitch in a game in June at Cam­den Yards.

There were spe­cial mo­ments in­side the struc­ture of the game, too.

Machado home­red in the first, sec­ond, and third in­ning Aug. 7 in Chicago to be­come just the sec­ond player in ma­jor league his­tory to do that. He hit three grand slams, and while he some­times left a lit­tle to be de­sired with his sit­u­a­tional hit­ting, it’s nit­pick­ing to find much wrong with what Machado did this sea­son.

Even if he didn’t hit well, Machado would be a wor­thy starter be­cause of what he does de­fen­sively.

Machado is widely con­sid­ered a Manny Machado tags out the Rays’ Luke Maile on Sept. 18. Machado’s de­fense, and his 37 home runs and 96 RBIs this sea­son, made him in­valu­able. top-tier de­fen­sive third base­man, and he showed just how tal­ented he is by shift­ing to short­stop when J.J. Hardy frac­tured his foot in May. The al­ter­na­tives: When Machado went over to short­stop in Hardy’s ab­sence, the Ori­oles ro­tated three play­ers at third base — Ryan Fla­herty, Paul Jan­ish and Pe­dro Al­varez.

Fla­herty played the most of those three while Machado was at short, bat­ting .225 with a .650 OPS and three home runs in that time. Jan­ish made nine starts at third base. Al­varez was a third base­man for all of his ca­reer be­fore de­fen­sive trou­bles prompted the Pitts­burgh Pi­rates to move him to first base in 2015. He ap­peared in 12 games at third base for the Ori­oles, start­ing six. The fu­ture: Any fu­ture that’s not cen­tered on Machado at third base is a worst-case sce­nario for the Ori­oles, and that’s no knock on the play­ers be­low him on the depth chart. The big­gest name among them is 19-yearold Jo­mar Reyes, who spent the sea­son at High-A Fred­er­ick this year.

Reyes has big-time raw power, but through three pro­fes­sional sea­sons he hasn’t been able to har­ness it in game sit­u­a­tions. He hit .228 with a .607 OPS and 10 home runs in 126 games for the Keys. He also made 25 er­rors at third base.

Ahead of Reyes is Drew Dosch. Dosch would have gone much higher than the sev­enth round in 2013 had he not torn his ACL shortly be­fore the draft, but the Ori­oles still might have got­ten a bit of a bar­gain in se­lect­ing him there.

Dosch shot through the sys­tem in 2014 and 2015, but scuf­fled last year in Dou­ble-A and was bat­ting .226 at the All-Star break this year. He de­vel­oped an all-fields hit­ting ap­proach and had a .306 av­er­age with an .878 OPS the rest of the way, end­ing his sea­son with a .261 av­er­age.

Michael Al­man­zar, a 2013 Rule 5 draft pick, hit .241 with 10 home runs as the ev­ery­day third base­man for Triple-A Nor­folk. The skinny: Even with­out much be­hind Machado, his pres­ence means third base is one of the Ori­oles’ strong­est po­si­tions now and in the fu­ture. He’s a peren­nial MVP can­di­date en­ter­ing the prime of his ca­reer, and the ex­pec­ta­tion is he’s only go­ing to get bet­ter.

The Ori­oles still have two more years of con­trol on Machado’s con­tract, and though that seems like a small num­ber, hav­ing a player like him trumps any­thing the Ori­oles could get for him in a trade while still try­ing to con­tend.

MITCHELL LAY­TON/GETTY IM­AGES

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