With the 2016 season finished, there's no better time than the present to take stock of the Orioles' organizational depth at every position around the diamond.
Over the next few weeks, we'll break down every position individually and separate the players all through the system into three categories: who was the man there this year, who else was in the picture, and who is working through the minors to join them. We end the week, and our trip around the infield, with third base. Manny Machado means things are going splendidly for the Orioles at that spot.
The man: The Orioles have the joy of running out 24-year-old star Manny Machado at third base, and seemingly every time they do, he does something that solidifies his status as one of the game's best young players.
Machado, who finished fourth in the American League MVP voting a season ago, put forth an effort worth at least that this year by batting .294/.343/.533 with a career-high 37 home runs and 96 RBIs. He made the All-Star team for the third time in his four full seasons, and provided one of the more exciting moments of the year when he slugged Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura after a hit-by-pitch in a June game at Camden Yards.
There were special moments provided inside the structure of the game, too. Machado homered in the first, second, and third inning on Aug. 7 in Chicago to become just the second player in major league history to do that. He swatted three grand slams, and while he sometimes left a little to be desired with his situational hitting, it's nitpicking to find much wrong with what Machado did this season.
Even if he didn't hit so well, Machado would be worth having around because of what he does defensively. Machado is widely considered a top-tier defensive third baseman, and he showed just how precocious his talent is by shifting to shortstop when J.J. Hardy fractured his foot in May. He shifted positions seamlessly, and though he's not the elite defender at short that he has proven to be at third, that seven-week cameo solidified just how valuable Machado is in many senses.
The alternatives: When Machado went over to shortstop in Hardy's absence, the Orioles rotated through three players at third base — Ryan Flaherty, Paul Janish and Pedro Alvarez.
Flaherty played the most of those three while Machado was at short, batting .225 with a .650 OPS and three home runs in that time. Janish made nine starts at third base. Alvarez was a third baseman for all of his career before defensive issues prompted the Pittsburgh Pirates to move him to first base in 2015. He appeared in 12 games at third base for the Orioles, starting six.
The future: Any future that's not centered around Machado at third base is a worst-case scenario for the Orioles, and that's no knock on the players below him on the depth chart. The biggest name among them is 19-year-old Jomar Reyes, who spent the season at High-A Frederick this year.
Reyes is a big, young man with big-time raw power, but through three professional seasons he hasn't been able to harness it in game situations. He hit .228 with a .607 OPS and 10 home runs in 126 games for the Keys, and is a candidate to repeat the level. He also made 25 errors at third base, and while he entered the season trimmed down, he might ultimately be too big to handle the position full-time.
Ahead of Reyes is Drew Dosch, an interesting player who took a major step forward in 2016. Dosch would have gone much higher than the seventh round in 2013 had he not torn his ACL shortly before the draft, but the Orioles still might have gotten a bit of a bargain in selecting him there.
Dosch shot through the system in 2014 and 2015, but scuffled last year in Double-A and was batting .226 at the All-Star break this year. He developed an all-fields hitting approach and had a 306 average with an .878 OPS the rest of the way, ending his season with a .261 average.
Michael Almanzar, the former Rule 5 pick, hit .241 with 10 home runs as the everyday third baseman for Triple-A Norfolk.
The skinny: Even without much behind him, Machado's mere presence means third base is one of the Orioles' strongest positions both now and going forward. He's a perennial MVP candidate entering the prime of his career, and the expectation is he's only going to get better.
The Orioles still have two more years of control on Machado's contract, and while that seems like a small number, having a player like him trumps anything you could get for him when you're still trying to contend, as the Orioles are.