The MLB Hot Stove is starting to cool as we get ready for Spring Training. Pitchers and catchers report in less than three weeks. So let’s stoke that fire a bit with more prospect talk. This series on prospects will cover a wide range of players as well as positions. We’ll cover sleepers as well as some of the more obvious stars of the future.

If you’re like me, you are looking around the baseball world and wondering where your shortstop is going to come from for your 2011 fantasy squad. Mostly what we see is the 1980’s approach: good glove, no stick. Once Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki are gone from your draft, you’re left with a lot of, “who cares?”

That leads us to the next big thing, Manny Machado. The Orioles prospect reminds many of Alex Rodriguez. Before we try to compare a kid who has never played above low-A ball to the greatest hitting shortstop of the modern era (A-Roid isn’t in the same class as The Flying Dutchman), let’s clarify. He’s built like Rodriguez, was drafted from a Miami high school and has a ceiling that could put him in Alex Rodriguez territory with a little less power, leading some to call him “A-Rod Light”.

He was drafted with the third pick of the 2010 draft, and at 6’3”, 185 pounds, there is reason to worry that he will grow out of the position. But most scouts project him to remain at shortstop which is why he is so highly regarded. Though Machado is not on par with Rodriguez, he is still a potential five tool player.

Machado’s best tool is bat contact. He has excellent bat speed and hand-eye coordination, which should lead to consistently high batting averages. He has a very nice, level swing and the ball jumps off his bat. His swing does occasionally get long but he has a quick bat and strong wrists.

His broad shoulders have many projecting average to above average power down the road, meaning 20-30 homers per season is a reasonable expectation. At his height, he may have the upside for even more power than that, but the flipside is the aforementioned concern of him outgrowing the position.

He appears to be above average with the glove, as he has good range, solid footwork, soft hands and a strong arm. He’s an instinctual shortstop who can make plays to both sides look easy while showing the kind of actions usually found only in older players. His arm is slightly above average but he has below average speed for a shortstop. If he were to outgrow the position, he could be a plus defender at third base given his strong throwing arm and good instincts and his bat would still play well.

Machado has the potential to be the best shortstop drafted since the Mariners selected Rodriguez in 1993. Machado is currently the best shortstop prospect in professional baseball, despite being two to three years away from The Show because there is no other prospect that has as high a ceiling. In Machado, Baltimore looks to have a future star on their hands.

He is everything you could want in a shortstop, he just needs the experience. He should begin the season in low-A ball and should reach high-A before long, playing most of the season as an 18 year old. His Major League ETA is late 2013. Nonetheless, he is a special talent that could move through the minors very quickly.

He barely reached Class A last year, putting him a few years away from helping your fantasy squad, but he’s a no-brainer to own in long term deep keeper and dynasty leagues. Given the shortage of offense at shortstop, he’s almost certain to become an impact player in fantasy once he comes of age. Look around the league and you’ll see just how difficult it is to find a shortstop like that.

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Rick Milleman is the head fantasy baseball contributor at Check his annual player projections included in the Cheatsheet Compiler & Draft Buddy to help draft your championship team.

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