Just as MLB viewership starts to drop they finally get two transcendent young talents. For more than a year, baseball has been news had been all about the Angels’ Mike Trout and Nationals’ Bryce Harper. These two are the Magic Johnson and Larry Bird of baseball currently. Baseball is finally getting good again, even though fan support has dropped. We have Magic and Bird but Kobe may be stepping in pretty soon.
Orioles’ third baseman Manny Machado, 20, is 11 months younger than Trout, and three months and 10 days older than Harper. Machado is currently ranked ahead of both this season in the two most commonly used versions of Wins Above Replacement (WAR). If he moves back to shortstop, which is a possibility once J.J. Hardy’s contract expires after the 2014 season. Middle-of-the-diamond players carry greater weight, and Machado likely would be a top defender at short.
Machado rates a plus-nine, which means that in the Orioles’ first 32 games he made nine plays above what an average fielder would make. In addition, Machado is batting .314 with an .877 OPS, five homers and three steals in three attempts through Tuesday. Trout is batting .274 with an .846 OPS, five homers and five steals in six attempts.
Machado doesn’t really deserve the full amount of love that Trout and Harper get. Not yet at least. Trout’s 2012 season was perhaps the greatest by a rookie in major league history. Harper also proved himself in ’12 over nearly a full season, while Machado did not reach the majors until last Aug. 9.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter speaks of Machado’s “alert eyes,” comparing him to a basketball player who, once or twice a game, hangs back after a basket and steals the in-bounds pass for another quick score.
Machado appears ready to become the Orioles’ best position player since Cal Ripken Jr. and maybe much more. He’s an upcoming star but can he be the Kobe the MLB needs? With all these rising stars baseball needs more viewership than ever before.