Manny Machado rolled into Spring Training this week with the title, again, as the Orioles' No. 1 prospect
. He spent some of the offseason preparing for camp with Alex Rodriguez, a player who knows something about playing Machado's position, shortstop. (Rodriguez is also the all-time leader in home runs hit by an opposing player at Machado's likely future home, Camden Yards).
Machado, a Team USA gold-medalist at the 2009 Pan Am Junior Championship in Venezuela, is also a righty-swinging infielder from the Miami area, and he grew up with posters of Rodriguez in his bedroom. He was Baltimore's top pick in the 2010 Draft -- third overall -- out of Brito High and made his professional debut late that summer.
In his first full season in the Minors, Machado started strong -- he was batting .333 with five homers, 21 RBIs, three steals and a pair of triples in 24 games -- before a knee injury sidelined him for about a month. A hip problem in July was another setback, and Machado ended up batting .257 with 11 homers and 50 RBIs across two levels, finishing the season at Class A Advanced Frederick after a July promotion.
MiLB.com caught up with the 2011 South Atlantic League All-Star during Spring Training in Sarasota, Fla.
MiLB.com: You just wrapped up an intrasquad game -- how'd it go?
Machado: It went pretty well. I got in in the fifth inning -- first time seeing live pitching since last season. I was just working on tracking the ball, and it went good. I got a base hit up the middle -- I felt good, definitely. I think we're looking good this season.
MiLB.com: Take me back to Draft day. What was it like to be the No. 3 overall selection? Did you have a feeling it would be the Orioles?
Machado: It was between the Pirates or O's, and about five minutes before I kind of figured the Orioles would take me over the Pirates. It was a great experience, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. When there's thousands of players around the country, me being third, I mean -- what more can you ask for? You just thank God for the abilities he gave me, and my family for helping me through everything I've done. I thank my family, mostly.
MiLB.com: Many Orioles fans are familiar with your connection to A-Rod, from idolizing him growing up to working out with him the past two winters in Miami. What has he taught you? Do you guys still talk pretty often?
Machado: Taking advice from a player like him is great to have. He's taught me a lot about hitting and the routine and his baseball routine -- what to go through during the season. Mostly what I take from him is his work habits and work ability. I see that as such a young player, and it drives me that he's got a couple more years in the league and he's still working as hard as he is. I haven't even gotten into the league, so I should be working twice as much as he has. I'm younger, so working with him, seeing what he does -- and my other buddies, Yonder Alonso and Jon Jay, how much they push me to work harder -- I want to thank them for that.
MiLB.com: What was your routine with that group of guys to prepare for this season?
Machado: Mostly, I worked with Alonso. He's a helluva hitter, his work habits in the cage are unbelievable, through the roof. Just looking at how he works, it's unbelievable. I'm a young guy, so I watch whatever he does. I put that in my routine and it's their offseason and they're working -- it's unbelievable.
MiLB.com: Another friendship you've established with the Orioles is with fellow infielder Jonathan Schoop. Word is you guys battle in video games pretty often. Who's better?
Manny Machado: I'm definitely better than him, definitely. FIFA -- that's our game. I own him.
MiLB.com: I read that Schoop doesn't have a car and rides into camp with you. Is that true?
Manny Machado: He's doesn't live here and I live a few hours away and I have my car, so whenever I can give him a ride to the field, I'm willing to take him. I know he's on foot, and he's a good buddy of mine. Whenever he can catch a ride, he's open.
MiLB.com: What was it like playing in the Futures Game last year and being a part of All-Star festivities? Manny Machado-Bryce Harper was a pretty solid 2-3 combo in that U.S. lineup.
Machado: Yeah, that was a great experience. It was unbelievable to be out there in Arizona, it's a [great] stadium, and to be around those guys -- the top prospects -- it was a good experience ust to get to know each other. I was in [Class A Advanced], so I didn't know a lot of these other guys. You pay attention to the game, but you mess around and it's laid back. It was good to get to know these guys and see how they work and how they are off the field.
MiLB.com: You dealt with some injuries last season (specifically, a patella subluxation of the left knee). How frustrating was the rehab process?
Machado: It was very frustrating. That was the first time I've ever gotten injured playing baseball, so it was real tough on me. I missed a month, I went a month without playing baseball, so it was very frustrating. God's given me the ability to get back on my feet and keep driving and being better. I'm getting my knees stronger and, at the end of the day, I'm ready for the season without injuries.
MiLB.com: A question from a fan via Facebook -- and I think it's one a lot of Orioles fans have: What's your expectation of when you'd like to reach the Majors? Have the O's hinted at all about their plans for this season?
Machado: There's no expectations for me. I'm trying to stay healthy and play a full season -- 142 games before 162. If I get the callup this year or two or three years or next year, we never know. It's in their hands -- the farm director and the Orioles -- and it's up to them. Whenever they think I'm ready, then that's when I'll get the call.
MiLB.com: Buck Showalter sounds like he's been very impressed with you and Schoop so far this spring, bringing you up to Major League camp. How much different is Spring Training for you this year compared to last season?
Machado: I came in this year ready and, not that I'm used to it already, but more like a feeling like I knew whatever I'd see and do. I've gotten into the groove, I've caught up easily to what we're doing. Being around the big leagues at camp, around these guys, seeing how they work, it's totally different than how it is down there [in Minor League camp]. It's great to be up here and being around these guys and seeing how they get ready for a long season.
MiLB.com: Not many high school Draft picks get promoted during their first full season. What was the adjustment like moving up to Frederick?
Machado: It's the same game, the season is long and you just get quicker. But it's all a game, it's all the same. You can't put pressure on yourself, just be laid back and let my abilities take over. I'm not putting pressure on myself and I'm having fun.
MiLB.com: Another from Twitter: Flavored sunflower seeds or classic?
Machado: I like to mix it up with barbecue and ranch and sometimes just ranch and sometimes classic -- but mostly barbecue and ranch.
MiLB.com: New Orioles uniforms, with the old-school bird logo -- do you like the new look or do you prefer the more realistic bird cap?
Machado: I think it's classic -- it brings back a little old school and new school to the game. I think they're pretty cool and to rock those old-school, how Brooks Robinson used to rock it, I think it's pretty cool. I think we're up there in the game.