While his star doesn't yet shine as brightly as Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, the profile of Manny Machado has steadily risen since he arrived in Baltimore last August. His accomplishments before his 21st birthday have gotten him in the same sentences as Hall of Famers like Mickey Mantle and in magazine articles contrasting him with Trout and Harper. His play has fans stuffing the virtual ballot boxes for next month's All-Star Game.
For each double that Machado slaps into the gap or slow roller that he nonchalantly scoops up and fires to first base, the hype gets a little louder and a few more people hop aboard the Manny bandwagon.
Aaron Boone is on board. The current "Baseball Tonight" analyst selected Machado third overall in ESPN's annual "franchise player draft," in which 30 analysts picked which player they would start their franchise with.
"I think in the next 12-15 years, he'll settle in as a .900 OPS guy and be a perennial Gold Glover at third base unless the Orioles move him back to shortstop," the former big league infielder rationalized.
The analysts were told to ignore the contract statuses of players and look only at talent. It is obvious that early in this fantasy draft, the guys at ESPN put a premium on young talent and potential.
Before Boone picked Machado, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com took Trout, a 21-year-old outfielder for the Los Angeles Angels, first overall. Then Doug Glanville of "Baseball Tonight" took Harper, a 20-year-old outfielder for the Washington Nationals, second.
Machado was followed by San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey, Los Angeles Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw, Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria, Oakland Athletics left fielder Yoenis Cespedes, New York Mets starter Matt Harvey, Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera, and Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto. Cabrera was the only 30-something in the top 10.
Obviously, Machado is in pretty good company, and rightfully so.
A few weeks out from his 21st birthday, he is batting .327 with a .506 slugging percentage, five home runs and 30 RBIs. With 25 doubles, he is on pace to set the all-time MLB record. His defense should garner him serious consideration for a Gold Glove award.
If I were starting a team from scratch, I would give Machado a long look, though it would be hard to pass on Trout, who hit .326 with 30 homers and 49 stolen bases in his age-20 season in 2012.
Thankfully, I don't have to pick. And neither do the Orioles, though I'm sure they would be quite content to stick with Machado, who appears to be on the verge on becoming a household name.