No one doubted Dixon Machado's defensive abilities during his ascent through the Detroit Tigers' farm system. Blessed with an arm and glove that some have rated as high as 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale, Machado's defense has been major league ready for years. We haven't seen a Jose Iglesias-level highlight reel play from Machado yet, but that could change any time the ball is hit in his direction. The two shortstops are 1a and 1b when it comes to defensive ability in this system.
Like Iglesias when he broke into the major leagues, the question surrounding Machado is whether he will be able to hit enough to sustain his excellent defensive production. That question has not been answered so far. Machado is hitting .246/.306/.281 with two doubles in 63 plate appearances.
Unlike Iglesias, Machado is not a free swinger. The 23-year-old Venezuelan has displayed impressive patience in his brief big league stint, walking in 7.9 percent of his plate appearances thus far. This comes on the heels of a 2014 season in which Machado blossomed offensively, including an 11.9 percent walk rate in 523 plate appearances across two levels. Machado's walk rate dipped in Triple-A Toledo this year, but the early signs this September are encouraging.
Walk rate isn't everything, though. Machado has shown an impressive eye at the plate, swinging at just 24.5 percent of pitches outside the strike zone. This is a very small sample, to be sure, but that would rank 14th among qualified MLB hitters if he maintained that distinctive eye throughout a full season. His swinging strike rate of 8.5 percent isn't quite so elite, but that could be partially inflated by a 56.7 percent O-contact percentage (the ratio of pitches outside the strike zone he makes contact with), which would rank among baseball's worst. If he can start fouling off more of the pitches he gets fooled on, that whiff rate may go down.
What really caught my eye with Machado, however, is how well he knows the strike zone. He has taken some very close pitches in recent games, including a pair from White Sox rookie flamethrower Frankie Montas on September 23.
Then, there's this.
That's Machado adjusting to a breaking ball with two strikes and making solid contact, lacing a single into center field off Texas' Colby Lewis on Monday night. Machado fouled off a similar pitch in the at-bat after watching yet another breaking ball drop in for a strike. He demonstrated excellent bat control in this swing, keeping his hands back while his back foot was off the ground in order to make contact with the looping curveball.
There are still reasons to doubt Machado's offensive upside -- his slight frame being a major one -- but having a solid approach at the plate and what appears to be an excellent eye for the strike zone are major pluses in his book. It will be interesting to see how the young shortstop progresses, whether it's with the Tigers or another organization in 2016.