ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado doesn’t talk about whether he belongs in “The Conversation.”

That’s baseball speak for: “Who is the best all-around player in the game?”

The top two candidates are Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals and Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels. But Machado has plenty of campaign surrogates who are willing to speak on his behalf for inclusion into this race.

Chief among them is Orioles manager Buck Showalter.

“The separator for me is the impact the player has on both sides of the ball. There, Manny is as good as anyone in the game. He impacts us and our pitching staff nightly, whether he’s hitting or not. One example is the depth that he allows us to play,” Showalter told Bleacher Report.

“Manny’s got a lot of ‘want tos.’ No. 1, he wants the Baltimore Orioles to win a world championship and contribute to that. But he’s not satisfied with just being good. I don’t know why people are having those conversations without his name in it. Machado also doesn’t get nearly the recognition of those other guys.”

Machado does offer a hint of his views on The Conversation via the body art tattooed across his upper back.

It reads simply: “Sky’s the Limit.”

“The sky’s the limit for him, for sure. He wants to get better every year. He wants to be the best,” Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop told B/R. Schoop played with Machado in the minors and remains perhaps his closest friend on the team. “He fits right there,” Schoop said. “You could see right away in the minors he was a special player.”

Baltimore first baseman Chris Davis told B/R that Machado already is—or should be—a part of any discussion of the game’s finest.

“Manny’s just as talented as those two guys. Obviously, he’s going to continue to have to prove himself,” Davis said. “That’s the name of the game. Once you do it once, can you do it again? And after you do it again, can you do it again? It’s up to him to see where he goes from here.”

Shortstop J.J. Hardy firmly agreed Machado’s name “should be involved” in any serious best-in-baseball discussion. Machado made a major league-high 713 plate appearances in 2015 over 162 games. “He’s amazing. He’s definitely, arguably there with them.”

Machado is currently No. 6 on ESPN’s player ratings and the No. 7 position player on MLB Network’s Top 100, which is updated weekly.

His overall body of work over the past 365 days prior to Monday can offer numeric solace to those ranking him among the likes of Trout and Harper.

During that time frame…

  • Trout had 33 doubles, 41 HR, 89 RBI and a .297/.399/.586/.985 slash line.
  • Harper had 44 doubles, 47 HR, 112 RBI and a .336/.458/.691/1.149 slash line.
  • Machado had 36 doubles, 38 HR, 86 RBI and a .301/.373/.537/.910 slash line.

When it comes to picking the best of the best between the likes of outfielders like Harper or Trout versus a third baseman like Machado, all of whom have similar numbers, Showalter posits a simple question to his questioner: “Which position will impact the game more?”

“Third base?” is the hesitant answer.

“You bet your ass, and Manny can play shortstop, too,” Showalter answered. “You can’t make the opposition hit the ball to your best defensive player. I can’t make my best hitter hit with the bases loaded. It has to be his turn. He impacts our game in so many ways.”

“When I bring up young players, I ask myself if they can defend well enough to have the growing pains to become good offensive players. They’re all going to struggle here offensively. The jump between Triple-A and the majors is the biggest in sports. I can’t bring up anybody who’s letting in two but not driving any in. If you’re a plus-defender, then I can let you grow offensively. I knew we could do that with Manny, Jonathan (Schoop) and (Joey) Rickard.”

Defensively, Machado’s statistical edge is quite decisive, even though Trout hasn’t made an error since 2014. Machado turns 24 in July and has won two Gold Gloves at third base, plus a Platinum Glove for being the best overall defender in the American League in 2013. He was worth 14 runs above the average player at third on defense, while Harper and Trout were worth 10 and five, respectively.

Showalter sees much more to Machado’s defensive edge at his position than what is displayed in analytics.

“Those numbers are not some dark bugaboo, but you have to take the cloak off them. And they don’t show everything” Showalter said.

Among the items not quantified in Machado’s “defensive WAR,” according to his manager: “Arm strength, tags—he’s a great tagger—range in the air, throwing to the right base, defending the swinging bunt and positioning.”

Orioles Hall of Fame pitcher and current broadcaster Jim Palmer brought up The Conversation without being asked.

“Everywhere I go, people ask why isn’t Manny in the conversation for one of the best players in baseball. I think he is in that conversation, certainly in the top five,” Palmer told B/R. “He just plays at a very, very, very, very, very, very high level.”

Palmer’s breakdown of Machado, who is closing in on 2,000 career at-bats, helps to explain why he’s playing at such a high level and why he’s likely to stay here.

“He’s very talented. He had two ligament problems—in the right and left patella—and he’s taken care of that. He’s had a lot of experience. It seems like he’s more focused. He’s more selective at the plate. He’s got power to all fields. Certainly, it helps that Camden Yards is a great hitter’s park.”

“Defensively, he’s got the reflexes of a shortstop playing third base, with a great arm. You really have to be able to anticipate the play at third base. They don’t call it the hot corner for nothing. He’s a very talented young player.”

“He’s so imaginative,” said Showalter, who made it a point to stress his observations were much more praise of Machado than a critique of the others involved in the debate.

“A good defender has a great imagination,” Showalter said. “You can’t put them into a robotic mindset. He’s so loose-jointed he can do things that others can’t do at third base. You have to give him the freedom to use his imagination.”

As an example, Machado recently tried to steal third base with two outs and lethal slugger Chris Davis at the plate. “A guy like Manny, you let him have the flow. His maturity has grown in both the competition and preparation for the competition,” Showalter said.

The stratosphere, not merely the sky, appeared to be a step stool on Machado’s ascent to the top, as he tallied at least one hit in the first 16 games of 2016. After going 2-for-5 against the Royals on Saturday, his average stood at .397.

The ceiling of Tropicana Field, the Rays pitching staff and some stellar defense have temporarily clipped his wings. Tuesday, Machado’s average had “tumbled” to .342 after going 0-for-11 over the past three games.

He’s not alone, as the Orioles have scored just one run in the past 26 innings. Before the series, Rays manager Kevin Cash said a key to slowing Machado was making sure he didn’t come to bat with runners on base. For two nights, anyway, it has worked. 

Palmer and Davis agree that Machado has become more patient at the plate, mini-slump or not.

“He’s never really in a hurry. He’s understanding a walk is as good as a hit,” Davis said. “We all know as an offense they’re not going to challenge one through nine. They’re going to try to pick their poison and come at different guys. It’s been good for a lot of guys to know they’re not going to have to win the game with one swing of the bat. That’s something that Manny has bought into and that’s been huge for our team.”

Added Palmer: “He’s at that point now where you really have to make good pitches to get him out.”

To wit, a filthy 92 mph changeup Chris Archer threw to strike him out in his first at-bat Monday night. “He should chase that pitch, that’s how good it was,” Rays catcher Curt Casali said. Archer fanned 10 Orioles Monday, including five in the first two innings.

“It’s valid that he’s in there,” Casali said of the best-in-baseball discussion. “He makes great in-game adjustments, he’s strong and swings a big bat. He’s one of the toughest outs in the league for sure.”

Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria and Machado have combined for four AL Gold Gloves since 2009. The Rays TV network made the hot corner comparison prior to Tuesday’s telecast, juxtaposing highlight clips of Longoria and Machado.

Before the game, Longoria told B/R the numbers will, in the end, dictate who makes the cut and who doesn’t. “If the numbers are comparable, I don’t know why he shouldn’t be in there. He’s an amazing player. A special player. His plate discipline has gotten better. He always knows what’s coming, which is what you see from the elite hitters.”

Moving from shortstop to third base has made Machado even more of a defensive threat, Longoria said. “He’s got a great arm. And some of the plays he makes, that others don’t, occur because of his arm—going way down the line behind the bag or moving to his right when he makes throws going away from first. And his range both ways.”

There is another conversation Machado chooses to engage in with vigor. That’s the never-ending chatter he enjoys with teammates in the clubhouse and during pregame warm-ups and batting practice with Hardy and Schoop. There, he smiles, laughs, jokes, talks trash in Spanish and English and shows all the signs of a 23-year-old potential MVP and/or best player in the game enjoying the ride.

Before Machado jogs off the field into the clubhouse after batting practice, he stops at the dugout steps and signs about a dozen autographs for Orioles’ partisans on site.

“He’s just growing up. He’s maturing,” Davis said. “He’s learning how to continue to be himself and be aware of his teammates. After being with a group of guys for a number of years you start to learn their tendencies. And you know where they’re going to be on the field—that’s what you’re seeing defensively. He understands that you need the second baseman, the shortstop and the first baseman. It’s been good for him.”

But Machado still struggles to achieve elite status in one area—at the card table in the Orioles clubhouse playing the poker-like game called pusoy.

“It’s a fun game, and it helps you think a little bit and get the brain going,” Schoop said through a laugh. “I’m way better than he is. He’s in High-A and I’m in the big leagues in the card game.”

Heck, even someone as crazy talented as Machado can’t be great at everything.


All quotes were obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report unless otherwise specified. Stats courtesy of

Bill Speros is an award-winning journalist who tweets @RealOBF and @BillSperos

Read more MLB news on