Manny Machado has forced himself into the discussion everyone's having about who deserves the title of Best Young Player in Baseball. Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are easy answers, but Machado has a compelling case as well. As of this writing, the 20 year-old leads American League position players in bWAR and base hits. But that's just the tip of the iceberg: he ranks second in runs, doubles, and extra base hits, too.
It hasn't taken Machado long to realize the superstar potential Baltimore saw when they drafted him out of high school with the third overall pick of the 2010 draft (in which Harper, baseball's LeBron James, went first). Little more than a year later, Machado made his major league debut. He was promoted from Double-A one month after his 20th birthday, arriving to the Show on August 9th, 2012 against the Kansas City Royals.
The Orioles lost 8-2 that day, snapping their five-game win streak, but Machado made a good first impression. Batting ninth, he went 2-for-4 with a triple and a run scored. He was even more spectacular the following day, when he led the O's to victory by slamming a pair of home runs and knocking in four runs off Luke Hochevar.
A star had arrived.
Pegged by many as a breakout candidate during the preseason, Machado is well on his way to surpassing those expectations. He's earned comparisons to Alex Rodriguez after emerging as one of the top third baseman in the American League, if not baseball; an MVP candidate as well as a potential Gold Glove winner. His stellar all-around play is a big reason why Baltimore sits just 1.5 games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East standings.
Given his rise to stardom at such a young age, it's hard not to draw parallels to Trout, last year's AL Rookie of the Year and MVP runner-up. Their rookie seasons were remarkably similar.
Mike Trout's 2011: 40 G 20 R 6 2B 5 HR 16 RBI 9 BB 30 SO .220/.281/.390
M. Machado's 2012: 51 G 24 R 8 2B 7 HR 26 RBI 9 BB 38 SO .262/.294/.445
Of course, we all know what Trout did for an encore, which was put together one of the greatest seasons a baseball player (let alone a 20 year-old) has ever had. Machado will be hard-pressed to approach Trout's historic level of production, but at the rate he's going he could wind up with 200 hits, 50 doubles, 20 home runs, 100 runs/RBI and a .300+ batting average.
But for now, let's just enjoy the ride.