Though he did not receive a sizeable bonus, Machado was considered one of the Tigers top priorities during the 2008 international signing period. The club wasted no time, inking Machado on July 2nd, the first day the 16-year old prospect was eligible to sign with Major League clubs.
Machado made his official professional debut with the VSL Tigers last summer, and by most accounts it was a success. Appearing in 63 games as the primary shortstop (61 games at the position), Machado showed a slick glove with a .954 fielding percentage in 373 chances. He earned a Gold Glove award in the VSL in 2009, one of three Tigers to be named to the Gold Glove team.
At the plate, Machado's overall line is hardly impressive. Sitting at .205/.310/.278 for the summer in 277 plate appearances, it takes a little deeper look to understand why his season was considered a success. The 17-year old Machado walked 32 times in 63 games, while striking out just 32 times over that span. That type of command of the strike zone is rare for a young player. He also managed to swipe 27 bases in 33 attempts, for a 82% success rate.
Machado's season continued with an appearance on the Tigers roster in the Venezuelan Parallel League. In 42 more games for the Tigers, Machado hit .266 with nine walks and 15 strikeouts in 143 at-bats. He also stole another 17 bases.
Machado is a well-rounded athlete with potential in all five tools. His defense stands out at such a young age. He has fluid actions befitting a true shortstop, with good range to both sides thanks to solid instincts and plus speed. His hands are soft and his footwork has made rapid improvement, allowing him to make use of his well above-average arm.
Machado's pure speed gives him the potential to be a potent offensive threat once on base, and while his base stealing instincts are still raw, he shows some aptitude for understand situational running and reading pitchers.
Machado has a short, compact swing that generates average gap power from line to line. He does not project for much more than doubles power, but he is strong enough, that advanced pitchers won't be able to knock the bat out of his hands. With his strong understanding of the strike zone and improving pitch recognition skills, his on-base ability could allow him to work as a two-hole hitter down the line.
Machado's defense is going to be his calling card over the next few seasons, as he gains strength and learns how to use his raw offensive tools to his and the team's advantage. He is a very long way from becoming the player some scouts project, but there is a faint glimmer of a true shortstop down the line.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% R
Dixon made it through his first full season without any injuries of note. He did miss a few games in June after being hit by a pitch, but he was back and playing at full speed in short order. The key over the next few years will be watching the health of his legs, as his speed is a critical part of his game, and he should be watched to make sure he doesn't develop any problems with his hamstrings or other muscles/joints in his legs.
Machado will be a candidate to come stateside for the 2010 season, based on his defensive abilities alone. His total offensive package lags significantly behind his glove, but the Tigers have pushed young players like Gustavo Nunez and Hernan Perez to the states before their bats were ready, so there is precedence. In the end, with Javier Azcona likely to come stateside, and the likely presence of Daniel Fields and Edwin Gomez in extended spring training, they may opt to leave Machado in Latin America for more consistent playing time.
Machado's glove will keep him at shortstop as long as there is room for him on the various rosters, but his bat will have to make strides in order to maintain his status as a priority player within the organization. Most scouts are set in their belief that he will hit enough to be an asset on both sides of the ball, but it is going to take time for the entire package to come together. Don't worry about writing him into the Tigers plans yet, he's at least three or four years away from the big leagues, at best.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.