The situation: Winners of five in a row and suddenly tied for the lead in the wild-card race, the Baltimore Orioles made an aggressive and surprising move Wednesday night, calling up their top position prospect in Machado, who just turned 20 last month. Machado was hitting .266/.352/.438 in 109 games at Double-A Bowie and was 16-for-33 with 32 total bases in his past nine games.
Background: The third overall pick in the 2010 draft, Machado has not put up dominant numbers in the minors, but he's been pushed aggressively through the system and was consistently young for his level. Though Machado struggled after a promotion to High-A Frederick last year, the Orioles shot him up to the upper levels, where with good but not great numbers, his scouting reports remain strong.
What he can do: Machado is one of the top position players in the game, but it's fair to question if he's ready for the big leagues. He's a big, athletic infielder at 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds and is a true five-tool player with at least average tools across the board. He has a good feel for the strike zone and a quick bat with enough strength for 20-plus home runs down the road, although he's still growing into his power, which is primarily to the pull side at this time. He crushes fastballs but still has some issues with breaking balls. Drafted as a shortstop, Machado has very good defensive fundamentals and a cannon for an arm, but scouts question whether he has enough quickness to remain at shortstop. While he's played only two games at third base in his pro career, he's been worked out at the position constantly, leading to his promotion. He's an average runner with good instincts who should steal 10-15 bases annually.
Immediate big league future: Sources close to the situation indicate that Machado will become the primary third baseman for the Orioles, but it's unfair to expect a Mike Trout or Bryce Harper type of performance from him. He's exceedingly young and inexperienced, and might look overmatched at times. The Orioles think he'll be an upgrade both offensively and defensively over Mark Reynolds, and he does have a chance to exceed expectations, as scouts have seen him as a low-energy player at times who could ramp up his game at the top level. He's a high-risk/high-upside player for 2012, but for leagues where he'll get shortstop positional eligibility because of his minor league time, he could be worth the risk.
Long term: J.J. Hardy is signed through 2014, but Machado is still seen as the shortstop of the future in Baltimore. For now he's a third baseman, and at either position, he's an excellent long-term play.