As Xander Bogaerts knocks on the door, a look back at the Orioles' promotion of Manny Machado

July 26, 2013 - 1:53 pm

BALTIMORE -- So what might the Red Sox be able to expect down the stretch if they were to promote Xander Bogaerts sometime in August? Something approximating a best-case scenario can be found in Baltimore. Last year, the Orioles made the audacious move to promote Manny Machado -- who had spent the year at shortstop in Double-A in his age 19 season (he turned 20 in July) -- to be their everyday third baseman down the pennant stretch. He was hitting .266/.352/.438 in the Eastern League, and then gave the O's a shot in the arm down the stretch with a .262/.294/.445 line that included seven homers in 51 games as Baltimore's everyday third baseman. But in retrospect, Buck Showalter notes, Machado's performance exceeded any realistic expectations. The Orioles expected that he might struggle offensively, just as countless others have done before when having limited exposure to upper levels pitching. "Most guys come up go and they go through [struggles]," said Showalter. "It's the biggest jump in sports, the level of play. The pitching is what does it. The pitching is so much better here at this level. That's the difference. We saw three guys in a row at 96-100 miles per hour every night it seemed like. "Our expectations [when calling up Machado] were that he would play a good defensive third base. That's what we hoped from the reports and people we trusted were telling us. What happened offensively, we were willing to live with and thought he'd figure it out at some point. Anybody who tried to tell you that they thought more than that is trying to portray themselves as Johnny SuperScout. We knew the potential was there. It wasn't like this guy was the 30th round of the draft or something. We weren't the only ones that were high on him." Part of Machado's success in the big leagues, Showalter suggested, represents the combination of the elite tools that made him the No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 draft combined with the makeup to make a relatively seamless transition to the big leagues. "I've had a lot of guys like that that would have been, should have been, could have been. But they can't figure out the other part of it," said Showalter. "Manny gets frustrated with the right things." The Sox see a lot of the same traits in Bogaerts, of course, a shortstop coming up (perhaps not on a par with Machado, but with current near big league-caliber skills at the position) who is preternaturally mature for a 20-year-old. Bogaerts, according to team officials, has shown a remarkable ability to make adjustments from game to game, at-bat to at-bat, pitch to pitch while commanding the strike zone even as he faces a host of pitchers with big league experience in Triple-A. Still, even for such a hitter, the hope upon exposure to the big leagues is that -- like Machado -- he will figure it out "at some point," in Showalter's terms. The ability to make an instant impact at the age and experience level represents a scenario of outliers among outliers. Bogaerts may have an opportunity to prove that he can replicate Machado's performance at some point this year. But, even for a potential superstar, he would find himself in far more company were he to struggle initially than if he hit the ground running.