No. 24: Dixon Machado, SS
Ahhh, finally, we're getting into the teeth of the Tigers farm system. Dixon Machado was signed as an international free agent in 2008, and made his professional debut in the Venezuelan Summer League (VSL) as a 17 year old during the 2009 season. While there, he struggled with the bat, only hitting .205, but showed advanced plate discipline and pitch recognition skills, only striking out 32 while walking 32 times as well. In 2010, the Tigers pushed Machado to come stateside and play in the Gulf Coast League (GCL-Rookie League), where the batting average rose to a solid .261, and his overall OPS rose by more than 60 points as well. In 2011, Machado again advanced, this time to Class A-West Michigan, where he was undoubtedly one of the youngest players in the league at age 19. While at West Michigan, the same issues that Machado had always had crept up: An inability to drive the baseball, leading to low overall batting numbers. Machado has never had an issue making contact, but as I'll explain in the scouting report, his problems stem from something else. Moving on, in both 2011 and 2012 (with Class A Advanced-Lakeland), Machado has shown that he's a very good fielder, a solid runner, and has an advanced knowledge of hitting, especially for someone as young as he is playing at advanced levels, but his overall hit tool is so weakened by his stature that the numbers do not show up to be what we'd like them to be.
Machado stands 6'0" and weighs a slight 150lbs (at last check). This is where his hitting issues come into play. While he has solid swing mechanics, good knowledge of the strike zone, and pretty good pitch recognition skills, his lack of strength is what causes him to have issues getting hits. He simply cannot (yet) generate the bat speed needed to consistently drive the baseball out of the infield, which is why he posts such low batting averages consistently. He works counts well, takes walks, and makes a lot of contact, but far too often that contact is of the weak variety that is easily turned into outs. He has almost no power to speak of, as you've probably guessed, but his speed allows him to turn some base hits into extra base hits. That was the bad, now for the good: Machado is an elite defender at SS. He combines excellent range, hands, footwork, instincts, and quickness at the SS position to consistently earn plus plus grade as a defender. He's easily the best shortstop in the Tigers system, and ranks up there with the best prospects in all of baseball defensively. Machado also has an absolute cannon for an arm, which is somewhat funny because you certainly would not expect that from someone with as slight a build as him. I've even seen some scouts put 80 grades on his arm. From what I've seen personally, I give his arm a 70 grade, but I haven't seen him nearly as much as other scouts. His arm, like his defense, is easily the best infield arm in the Tigers system and ranks up there with the best in baseball. Machado is also a plus runner, who uses his speed well both in the field and on the b asepaths, making him a perennial 15-20 stolen base threat. The problem is that he needs to get on base more consistently in order for his speed to make its way into more game situations.
Overall, Machado is one of my personal favorites as a prospect. I'm not sure he'll ever hit well enough to warrant playing every day at the big league level, but I have a soft spot in my heart for elite defenders, since the Tigers only have 1 (Austin Jackson). Machado's hitting issues are not of the technical variety, so the Tigers would gain nothing by making him repeat a year at Lakeland (in my view, at least), meaning that I'm nearly certain that he will begin 2013 with Class Double-A Erie, working the middle infield with Hernan Perez playing 2B. I'm very excited to get to Erie this summer to watch them both. Machado's most likely ceiling is that of a utility infielder, with the ability to play plus defense consistently at SS (or 2B in time, potentially), pinch run when needed, or potentially be used as a pinch hitter in bunting situations. However, if he can get even incrementally stronger so as to allow him to hit .230 or so in the majors, with an OPS somewhere around .600 (which is terrible), then I see no reason why he can't start and bat 9th on a team who is solid 1-8. Brendan Ryan is considered to be one of, if not the, best defensive SS's in the game, and he OPS'd .555 in 2012 while starting for Seattle, and I think Machado has better hitting fundamentals than Ryan does. Bottom line, as I've said a dozen times, the bat will be the key here. No doubt he can pick it in the field, but the bat is what will make him or break him.
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