The baseball world woke up this morning to find that the Baltimore Orioles promoted shortstop prospect Manny Machado to the major leagues, jumping him from Double-A Bowie. Machado will take over at least a portion of the third base job.
This was an unexpected move; there was no rumor buzz about this at all. The initial reaction in many circles was to conclude that rushing their top hitting prospect was a mistake. That was my first response, too. When I heard the news, my immediate thought was a cautious, reasoned, sober reply of "WTF are they doing?" I wasn't alone in this: 83% of responses in our poll question don't agree with Baltimore's decision.
On the other hand, Dave Cameron over at Fangraphs supports the move, seeing Machado as the most viable option that the Orioles have for third base down the stretch, given that the main alternative is Wilson Betemit. Machado may not hit any better than Betemit at this point, but he should be a defensive upgrade, and that alone would help the Orioles in their unexpected playoff push. There isn't anyone in Triple-A ready to handle the job, so it's Machado or the status quo, which the Orioles aren't satisfied with.
As I see it, there are four main objections to a Machado promotion.
1) He's not ready to hit at the major league level. Well, this is certainly a risk, but perhaps not as much as you might think on the surface. Machado is hitting .266/.352/.438 with 11 homers, 48 walks, and 70 strikeouts in 402 at-bats for Bowie. That line is in the "decent but not outstanding" category. However, keep in mind that he's only been 20 years old for a month and that the park/league factors favor pitchers. He's performing very well indeed, all things considered. He's also killing left-handed pitching (.303/.394/.523), and is currently very hot, hitting .444/.512/.889 over his last 10 games. Deployed with some caution and with reasonable expectations, Machado can hold his own.
2) He's not ready to play third base. Machado has played just two games at third base in his entire minor league career, but he is already a fine defensive shortstop. There may be a learning curve at third, but he has more than sufficient arm strength and range to handle the position and the Orioles are gambling that he'll settle in quickly. He may make some errors, but should have better fielding range than the other options.
3) This will push forward his service time clock too quickly. It is already August and I don't think this is a huge issue. If he proves he belongs in the majors, he needs to play. If he struggles, you can send him back to the minors with only a few notches taken off the clock. You have a chance to make the playoffs now, and that is worth any risks with service time.
4) If he struggles, Machado could get messed up psychologically, harming his development. Again, it's a risk, but I think a manageable one. Machado isn't a typical prospect, and I don't think there are any serious concerns about his ability to handle the majors emotionally. He had experience in high-profile, high-pressure events as an amateur and as long as the Orioles aren't stupid and act like the fate of the franchise is riding on his shoulders, I wouldn't expect a huge negative impact here even if he struggles at first.
The whole thing is a gamble, but I think Cameron makes some good points in his commentary. Overall, although I wouldn't have promoted Machado right now myself, I can understand why the Orioles did it. It isn't an insane move, the potential downsides can be managed, and it could very well help Baltimore reach the post-season.