First Pitch: Manny Machado and Rushing Prospects

We spent a lot of this summer debating when would be the best time to promote Starling Marte, who was in Triple-A and hitting well during the month of June. Can you imagine the discussions that are going on in Baltimore right now?

The Baltimore Orioles promoted Manny Machado to the majors tonight. What’s surprising about this move is that he was skipped over Triple-A. What’s even more surprising was that Machado wasn’t even dominating the level. He had a .789 OPS with Bowie, with his last game coming against Altoona, where he went 1-for-3 with a homer.

I saw Machado a lot last year in the South Atlantic League. He’s the real deal. But I think there’s a big difference between having talent and being able to use that talent. Since Machado left low-A, he has put up a .692 OPS in high-A, followed by the .789 OPS in Double-A this year. I haven’t seen him in action since then, so I’m not sure how he’s looked versus the numbers. But I can’t imagine those numbers are heavily misleading.

When Starling Marte was in the “When will Marte be Promoted” phase, the argument in favor of promoting him was “Look at Bryce Harper”. Harper only had a .690 OPS in Triple-A, spanning 74 at-bats. That followed time in Double-A where he had a .724 OPS in 129 at-bats (which came after he was skipped over high-A). Yet Washington called him up, similar to what is happening with Machado now. Harper started off well, but has been struggling lately. His season OPS is down to .745. He had an .860 OPS in May, a .780 OPS in June, .619 in July, and .592 in August.

When Marte was on his hot streak, I pointed to the limited amount of games that made up his hot streak. My suggestion was to keep him down for another month and see if he could repeat those numbers over the long haul. That was early July. The Pirates did keep him down for almost a month. He’s had some struggles since joining the majors, but he’s starting to show some of those tools that had us ranking him so well the last few years.

Probably the most frustrating thing with prospects is that you only get one choice. We’ll never know how Marte would have done if he was called up on July 1st. We’ll never know what Harper could have done if he was called up in June, rather than April. And now that Machado is up, we will have to ignore what could have been had he gone through a normal progression, including Double-A success and time in Triple-A.

In all of these situations we tend to assume the best case scenario. Marte would have had this same success in early July that he’s having now. Harper and Machado would have greatly benefitted with more time in the minors. But we don’t know.

I’m not a fan of rushing prospects. I think patience is the best approach, although you probably know that if you’ve read me for any amount of time. I don’t mind aggressive movements (SEE: Alen Hanson and Gregory Polanco to West Virginia, Luis Heredia to State College), but I think there’s a fine line between “aggressive movements” and rushing a player. Aggressive movements are best in the lower levels, pushing a guy to a tougher league to challenge his skills. But when I think you get in to rushing players is when you get in to Harper/Machado territory. Harper barely had 200 at-bats above low-A before making it to the majors. Machado now has 402 at-bats above high-A, although he hasn’t been dominating like he should. And looking back, if these guys have Pedro Alvarez type struggles early in their careers, it will be easy to find out what went wrong.

Links and Notes

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**The Pirates beat the Diamondbacks 7-6.

**Pirates Notebook: Correia Adjusts in Spot Start; Presley in Triple-A to Get More At-Bats.

**Prospect Watch: McPherson Shines in Triple-A Debut.

**Kyle McPherson’s Indians Debut Spoiled by Knights.

**State College Player Reports 8/8/12: Creasy, Harlan, Crumlich.

**Jeff Locke Officially Promoted, Alex Presley Optioned to AAA.

**Tyler Waldron Promoted to Altoona, McPherson Making Triple-A Debut.

**Minor League Schedule: 8/9/12.


  • If you asked me to guess how many ABs Machado had above High-A, I would have said a lot less than 402. So my initial reaction that he was really being rushed might be off a bit, but honestly, Hardy is at .229./275./385 with a pretty solid glove and I’m skeptical that Machado can improve on that.

  • Tim, I think you have a confirmation bias issue here. Your saying that guys who moved quickly who struggle will have an easy explanation isn’t really valid without much more analysis. There are plenty of guys who spend years in the minors then struggle in the bigs and plenty of players who move quick and don’t struggle. Generally, those who move quickest are the best talents, while the slower path is more common for more marginal players. You’d really have to do a much broader study to make any conclusion or at least focus on consensus top talents.

    • Tim mentioned that you never know. Look at Rutledge for Colorado. Look at LaHair for Chicago.

      And, don’t forget that guys like Alvarez, Presley and Tabata ALL did well their first years in the bigs.

      It’s a ‘who the heck knows’ type of deal. Just like protecting pitchers. They weren’t coddled when I grew up and seemed to do okay. Now……don’t get me started….lol

      • Harper is going to be great, but someone please tell me why he was in the All-Star game. One shouldn’t get chosen because of potential, since his numbers were OK, but not better than many others. We will be sick of him in future AS games as it is.

    • I think there’s a difference between moving quickly and stuff like this. Alvarez moved quickly. But this kind of stuff is beyond moving quickly.

  • Tim there is plenty of guys who are in the pro’s now with only a year or two in the minors. A lot of teams the bucs have faced this year has at least one guy who has limited minors experience on there squads the bucs are slow to move up prospects from level to level even when production has been exceptional. I would not doubt that Gerritt Cole would be either in AAA or the majors with a majority of teams right now with the way the bucs handle prospects we might not see him till 2015.

    • Most of those guys are college guys. That’s a normal quick progression through the system. Machado and Harper both came out of high school, and were promoted a year and a half in to their careers (less for Harper), while not having the numbers to support a promotion.

      Cole might be in AAA or the majors with another team, but that’s not saying it would be the right call. And the Pirates aren’t conservative with prospects. Just because they don’t make extreme moves like this doesn’t mean they’re conservative.

  • Thats something that Tony Sanchez didn’t make the top 10 catching prospects on Mayo’s lists