Yesterday I wrote about how I felt that spring training was more important for Baltimore Orioles’ hitters than it is for pitchers. Just to review (in a nutshell), pitchers are always a bit ahead of hitters once spring training games begin. So those 30+ games are pretty key for hitters like Adam Jones and Nick Markakis to get their regular timing up to par. The likes of Jones, Markakis, and even Brian Roberts (who hasn’t played a full season since 2009) will be fine in due course. They may have a few moments in Grapefruit League play where they look pretty rough, but I think you’ll see once the middle of spring training rolls around they’ll be in good shape.
In my opinion each and every one of these Grapefruit League games will be huge for third baseman Manny Machado. Let’s not forget that Machado came up from double-A Bowie only last August, but was an instant star in the clubhouse and on the field. In 51 at-bats Machado hit .262/.294/.445, with 7 homers, 9 walks, and 28 K’s. Machado also got to participate in the MLB post season, which the Orioles hope is an experience that serves both him and the club in years to come.
Machado is in an interesting position in that he’s already thought of as a “regular” in the lineup, yet he only has two months of experience under his belt. However how will Machado react to being off for six months? As I said yesterday, hitters can’t really simulate their skill in the off season short of hitting off the tee or even working out on a field. However there are very few substitutes for real live pitching at the big league level. Being so young and having so little major league experience, there’s always a chance that Machado will start off a bit behind the eight ball.
However that could also be said about him coming up and making an immediate impact. Machado hit a triple in his second big league at-bat (his first hit), and one night later hit his first and second home runs at the big league level. When Machado came up I felt that the Orioles were making a mistake from a logistical standpoint because if they were going to bring him up when they did they should have waited until the end of April this year so as to delay arbitration for an extra year…I was wrong on that. I also wondered what having a rookie who would be learning on the job would do to a pennant race…Machado also answered that question for me. So if his history of answering the call when it comes is any indication, Machado will be ready for the April 2nd opener in Tampa.
Nevertheless, no matter how good he might be he’ll still need every at-bat in those Grapefruit League games to get his timing back after the time away. Again, this is a new experience for a kid like Manny Machado (at this level that is). So I would submit that the at-bats in these games are bigger for Machado and for his career than perhaps the at-bats he provided in some of the bigger games down the stretch last season. Certainly those at-bats were huge in the immediacy of those moments, and you can’t compare that to spring training at-bats. However this is important more so for the immediacy of this season, as well as for the that of the future. We shouldn’t pay too much attention to strikeouts or flyouts early in spring training, because that’s going to happen for Machado as well as for everyone else. It’s the adjustments that the players make to remedy those situations that are important, and that last week of spring training probably will tell us a lot about all of them. In Machado’s case it’s also worth mentioning that he came up and learned a new position on the skip in third base. The reps he’ll get in the field will be just as important so as to see if Machado can reclaim the range that he had at the hot corner upon coming up last year.