So the legs are strengthening, the style is developing and the physical tools are already in place. The other crucial ingredient is there, too, according to his coaches.

Machado doesn't push back during instruction, a tendency that seems pre-destined with top picks. Instead, he pays attention when Dickerson tells him to check out video of the 6-foot-4 Ripken and watch how he widened his defensive stance and got low when fielding grounders.

And Machado listens when Bordick explains to him that confidence and talent can get him only so far. That it is dedication, preparation and a desire to play his best at all times that will set Machado apart.

"When they won the playoffs in Frederick, he told me, 'Man, that was a great experience, I've never felt so locked in. Every game meant something, every pitch meant something,'" Bordick recalled. "And I said, 'Buddy, that's the way it is supposed to be in the big leagues. That's the way it is supposed to be every game. You are a professional now. That's the way you have to approach it.' And I think he really took that to heart. That's the way he is approaching the game now."

Orioles starting shortstopJ.J. Hardyhasn't seen the kid play much, but he already has a feel for Machado's personality. Machado has made a point of seeking out Hardy, of asking the veteran questions, of saying hello every time they walk past each other.

"He is very respectful. And he is going to be good," said Hardy, who may one day be pushed to third to make room for Machado. "I mean, he is already good and you can tell that with the talent and everything. But he is a guy that wants to learn and wants to be as good as he possibly can. I think he is everything that everyone wants him to be."

That's the other thing — besides those once-spindly legs — that strikes Dickerson when he thinks about Machado. He has the confidence to succeed meshed with the desire to be better.

"He is a special kid that has the approach of a 30th-round draft choice trying to prove himself, which is nice when you see a talent with the makeup," Dickerson said. "I've been doing it since 1993 as a roving guy doing infield play, and he could be the best guy I have had, for sure. He has got hands, he's got arm strength. He's got understanding of the game. It's just making sure he stays on that humble track."

There are times when Machado lets his desire and youth get the better of his words. When he faced Boston Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett this spring, Machado made a point that "hopefully, I will be seeing him soon."

But in the next breath, he'll talk about how much he has to learn, and how much Dickerson and Bordick have helped him.

"They have taken me under their wings and forced me to do things just to get better and just push me to the next level I should be at," Machado said.

Machado did not get an official roster invitation to big league spring training this year, but he has spent time in camp, soaking up what he can. He has had four hits in 19 at-bats in big-league exhibition games and made at least one impressive defensive play.

Yet the Orioles aren't planning to rush Machado despite the fact that most prospect gurus consider him one of the top 10 players in all the minors. It wouldn't be a surprise if he started again at High-A Frederick. Or if he doesn't get to the big leagues until late in 2013 or early in 2014 — which is Hardy's final year under club contract.

The Orioles just want Machado to be ready when he does arrive in Baltimore.

And the expectation is that he will make that debut — and continue on — as a shortstop.

"That decision will be made by his play in the long run. The general manager or the manager, they will make decisions on that also," Dickerson said. "But as far as I can see as an infield coach, watching him and looking at what he brings every day, there is no reason he can't play shortstop.

"He should be able to play there. And stay there."

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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