August 9, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado (13) at bat in the second inning as he makes his major league debut against the Kansas City Royals at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE
One of the worst things you can do to a rookie is over-hype them. Baseball's a game of failures - the old saying is if you only fail 70% of the time, you're going to the Hall of Fame - and the development of a 20 year old kid is in no small part going to be driven by how he bounces back from the inevitable bad stretches ahead of him. Trying to do that alone is hard. Trying to do with the weight of too much expectation of your mind is really hard. Nobody is served by the over-hype.
Another thing you ought to avoid is to over-examine the small sample sizes. That's true of any player, but it would be pretty bad of us to comb through each of Manny Machado's at-bats, pitch by pitch, and then make any definitive claims about what kind of player he is going to be the rest of the year. He saw two very different pitchers. He saw a total of thirteen pitches. That's it. Leave your conclusions at the door, because that sample size is so minuscule, sub-atomic particles don't notice it.
I, like Brad Pitt's version of Billy Beane, did not watch the game last night. I was watching the Mets' AAA team - featuring old friend Adam Loewen! - demolish the Phillies' AAA team. But I did go back and watch each of Machado's four plate appearances last night, and afterwards I was struck by three things, more or less all at once:
Kevin Gausman made his pro debut recently, and when asked if he was nervous he replied to the effect of: The last time I pitched, it was in front of 11,000 screaming LSU fans in the College World Series. This is nothing compared to that. Similarly, Manny Machado has had a lot of spotlight coverage in his life. All top draft picks do. He seemed very much like he had been there, done that.
Maybe on the inside he was all butterflys and lightning bolts, but it didn't show. He didn't go up to the plate hacking away at everything in sight, and he wasn't even trying to pull everything in sight. That kind of poise can go a long way towards making Machado a real star big leaguer. It's not as important as his tools and talents, but it's also not nothing, especially at this point in his career.
Machado may or may not have been the benefactor of some suspect defense. Jeff Francoeur is a pretty bad fielder in right, and he not only couldn't catch the fly ball that became Machado's first big league hit, he was also pretty slow picking the ball up. Later on, Chris Getz couldn't barehand a slow roller, and Machado had his second big league hit, this one of the infield variety. That stuff makes Machado look a little bit lucky, but when you have the easy speed and hustle he showed you can make a lot of your own luck.
Maybe all 20 year old middle infielders are pretty fast guys. Machado's obviously not Billy Hamilton or Rickey Henderson, but he pretty instantly has become one of the fastest guys on the Orioles, and that's going to help out a lot.
3) An Adjustment
In his first at bat, Will Smith got Machado out on a curveball that was up in the zone. Machado chopped it to short for an easy ground out. In his second at bat, Will Smith fooled Machado with a curveball in the dirt for strike two. The next pitch was another curveball. This one wasn't a good pitch - it was off the plate and wasn't buried in the dirt - but Machado stayed with it and drove it the other way for a triple. That's a pretty nice sign. There's a lot of really nasty offspeed stuff coming for him in the next two months, and it's all a lot better than what he was seeing in the Eastern League. How he adjusts to it is going to be the difference between a good start to his career and a bad one. So far, so good.