The day the Baltimore Orioles first called up Manny Machado, they were in a three-way tie for the American League wild-card lead, and third base was a problem. Wilson Betemit and Robert Andino were splitting the job, and they weren’t getting the job done.

Machado was a shortstop who was one of the best prospects in baseball. He had just turned 20, but the Orioles arranged for him to play two games at third base in the Double-A Eastern League. And then they called him up and handed him the position in the major leagues.

Machado had two hits that first day and two home runs the next. He ended up hitting just .262, but the Orioles went on a 33-18 run that got them into the playoffs.

Four years later, people are comparing Machado to Brooks Robinson.

“He might be better than Brooks,” said one AL scout who watched Machado last week.

Yoan Moncada doesn’t need to be that good to help the Boston Red Sox. But he might be.

Moncada turned 21 in May. He’s a second baseman who is one of the best prospects in baseball, but the Red Sox just moved him to third base in the Double-A Eastern League. The Red Sox are leading the AL wild-card race, but third base is a problem. Travis Shaw and Aaron Hill are splitting the job, and they’re not getting the job done.

Now, Moncada will have his chance with the Red Sox announcing his promotion late Wednesday night after Boston’s 8-6 win over the Rays

I’ll trust the Red Sox are making the right move, because Dombrowski has never been shy about pushing talented young players to the big leagues and giving them a shot. He did it already this month with 22-year-old outfielder Andrew Benintendi, who rewarded the Red Sox’s faith with an .850 OPS and outstanding defense after they promoted him Aug. 2 from Double-A Portland.

The Red Sox needed help in left field, and they needed a spark. Benintendi gave them both, but then he got hurt. He went on the disabled list Aug. 25 with a sprained left knee, and while the injury isn’t as serious as feared, he can’t spark them right now.

Perhaps Moncada can.

An AL scout who has seen Portland quite a bit said in an ideal world, Moncada becomes a major leaguer next year. In the world the Red Sox live in, it’s worth a shot now.

“If I was the Red Sox, I would do it,” the scout said. “Look what the Yankees did with [Gary] Sanchez.”

There are no guarantees, but when Baseball America ranked the top 100 prospects in the game last winter, Moncada was third. He was behind Corey Seager and Byron Buxton but well ahead of Benintendi (15) and Sanchez (36).

Moncada ranked first in the same magazine’s midseason update, ahead of Benintendi, Sanchez and a few other players already having success in the big leagues in Alex Reyes, Alex Bregman and Trea Turner. Moncada was the Most Valuable Player of the All-Star Futures Game.

Moncada is younger than all those guys, and the rankings are based on future potential, not instant readiness. But given his speed and baserunning ability—his 45 steals are the most of anyone in the Red Sox organization, including on the big league team—Moncada is an obvious choice for a 40-man September roster.

The question is whether he can be more than that. The Red Sox think there’s a chance, given the recent decision to move him to third base. He wasn’t going to come up and displace Dustin Pedroia at second, but Boston’s third basemen have been among the least productive in the majors.

While the Red Sox have been baseball’s highest-scoring team, their third basemen ranked 27th in the majors with a .712 OPS entering play Tuesday. The recent numbers have been worse than that. Shaw had a .176 batting average and .572 OPS in August; Hill, acquired July 7 from the Milwaukee Brewers for two minor leaguers, had a .194 batting average and .512 OPS in his first 32 games with the Red Sox.

When I wrote about Moncada for Bleacher Report last winter, I reported he wouldn’t be ready for the big leagues this year and might not be ready next year, either. But I also used something Moncada said to reporters then: “I have one goal, and that’s getting to the big leagues.”

Players arrive at their own paces, but they show up faster when they make big progress and their teams have big needs. Both those things appear true now with Moncada, just as they did four years ago with Machado.

“I just wanted to play in the big leagues,” Machado said then, in a story I did for “If it would have been catching or playing the outfield, I’d have tried to do the job.”

Machado quickly looked like a natural at third base. Moncada, according to scouts who have seen him, isn’t likely to be as much of a defensive star.

“He’s not going to be a 75-80 fielder [on a 20-80 scouting scale] like Machado is,” the AL scout said. “At second base, he had 60-65 range. But his bat is where his money is.”

The bat and the potential have made Moncada money already, with the Red Sox paying $31.5 million to sign him after he left Cuba. It looks more and more like that investment will pay off.

It might start paying off this week.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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