Family and baseball.
It takes only one conversation with the Tigers’ promising shortstop prospect Dixon Machado to learn what matters most to him.
The affable Machado seems to wear a constant smile, one that only grows bigger when he talks about his family, or about his future in the game he loves. But just a year ago that future was still very much in doubt.
The Tigers have loved Machado’s defense since they signed him in 2008 as an extremely skinny 16-year-old out of Venezuela. They were so enamored with his glove that he was added to the 40-man roster after the 2012 season, despite hitting just .195 in high-A Lakeland.
But 2013 was essentially a lost year for Machado. Injuries held him to just 44 games, he was passed on the organizational depth chart by Eugenio Suarez, and he was ultimately removed from the 40-man roster to make room for Joe Nathan.
During a recent rain delay in Toledo, in between time in the locker room holding his eight-month-old son and trips to the dugout to check field conditions, he discussed how he turned himself back into a prospect in 2014.
“I worked with Mr. Larry Herndon when I was in high-A in the beginning of the year,” he said. “I changed my stance, where I’m loading really early so that way I can see the ball better and I use more of my legs. That’s all that I did.”
It was Machado’s third stint in the Florida State League, and even after the adjustments his numbers weren’t especially promising. He hit just .252, and he was striking out at a higher rate than ever. A mid-May promotion to the more hitter-friendly parks of the Eastern League didn’t immediately produce positive results either.
“In the beginning it was really hard,” he said. “I feel like I started hitting like two weeks after I get there, but after that I was just doing the same thing...trying to do the same thing every day. And it worked.”
Indeed it did. After going hitless in his first 19 AA plate appearances, the previously punchless Machado suddenly started hitting like Troy Tulowitzki. In 90 games with the Erie Seawolves he batted .305, walked more than he stuck out, slugged 29 extra-base hits, and hit five homers, nearly matching his career total to that point.
Machado, firmly back on the prospect map, was once again added to the Tigers’ 40-man roster, and he earned a promotion to Toledo. He continued to play well in his AAA debut, batting .317 in April, despite being the youngest player on the team.
His manager, former MLB All-star Larry Parrish, has been very pleased with his young shortstop.
“The kid is playing good,” he said. “He’s playing solid defense for us. He’s a first-year guy here, and he’s holding his own offensively.”
If Machado can continue hitting well, he will have turned himself into one of the rarest and most valuable assets in baseball: a two-way shortstop. There’s no guarantee Machado will ever be the man in Detroit, however. Jose Iglesias is looking like a breakout star, and he matches or surpasses Machado on every tool, save perhaps arm strength.
Detroit figures to be very active around the trade deadline, pursuing relief help, bench bats, or possibly another starter, and Machado may be the most valuable trade chip in their system.
The young shortstop talks about everything with his family, and the possibility of being traded is no exception. He lives in an apartment just across the street from Fifth Third Field, sharing the space with his wife, his infant son, and his brother. Any trade would affect four lives, not just one, but Machado tries not to think about it.
“I try to just worry about the things that I can control,” he said. “Stuff like that I can’t control it. I hate when thoughts come into your head like ‘Am I gonna get called up, or what’s gonna happen?’ That’s just something that you can’t control. You just gotta focus on play and work every day, and that’s it.”
With the future of his career and his family uncertain, one would think Machado might be a little uptight. But he has a secret to help him unwind.
“Play video games,” he said with a laugh. “I play Call of Duty. I like to play FIFA, too. I always play with my brother like every night. My wife, she always get mad at me that I’m gonna wake up the baby.”
The games give Machado a level of control that isn’t afforded to him in his professional life, where each day, and each game, can feel like a roller coaster ride.
“It’s like up and down,” he said. “But I’ll be fine.”