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Tigers' Dixon Machado needs to improve offensively to earn starting job

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It may not be in the Tigers organization, but Machado could eventually be an MLB starter.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Shortstop Dixon Machado was born a few years too late. Not only would Machado have easily found a job with the Tigers after the Edgar Renteria debacle in 2008, but he would have made an attractive trade chip for many teams prior to the recent bumper crop of All-Star talents -- damn you, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Xander Bogaerts, and the like -- reaching the major leagues.

Of course, there may still be a place for him. Possessing a glove that would already rank among Major League Baseball's best, Machado has improved his offensive game by a fair margin over the past couple seasons. He broke out after a midseason promotion in 2014, hitting .305/.391/.442 with 29 extra base hits in 342 plate appearances for Double-A Erie.

Many evaluators were still skeptical of Machado's offensive upside after that performance, which was somewhat buoyed by a .331 BABIP. He didn't quite match those totals after being promoted to Triple-A in 2015, but hit a respectable .261 with a .313 on-base percentage in 127 games. Machado also made his major league debut last season, playing in 24 games with the Tigers with a solid .307 on-base percentage.

Still, scouts are a bit bearish on his overall potential. He ranked no higher than eighth in the Tigers' farm system on any site this spring despite his proximity to the major leagues. Many believe he won't hit enough to hold down a starting job, but he has already reached his floor: a solid utility infielder capable of defending all three positions.

Prospect rankings
Baseball Prospectus Baseball America MLB.com TigsTown FanGraphs Minor League Ball
Team: #9
MLB: NR
Team: #8
MLB: NR
Team: #12
MLB: NR
Team: #8
MLB: NR
Team: #9
MLB: NR
Team: #14
MLB: NR
Strengths

Pick a high-octane firearm -- pretty much anything that can blow up your house will do -- and Machado's arm has been compared to it. Machado has been blessed with a double-plus arm that allows him to make any throw necessary at the shortstop position. His glove doesn't quite match the lofty grades his arm does, but he's an easy plus defender with excellent range and instincts. He is a defensive highlight reel waiting to happen, a near-clone to current starter Jose Iglesias. In fact, Tigers fans got a taste of Machado's potential last season, just days after Iglesias turned a slick double play of his own.

Machado's bat is definitely the weakest aspect of his game, but his advanced plate approach is a big reason why he has even advanced this far in the minor leagues. Many have praised Machado's ability to control the strike zone and avoid swinging at bad pitches, and his contact skills have also been complimented. FanGraphs' Dan Farnsworth complimented Machado's ability to hit to all fields, saying "He won’t get himself out often, and if he can reach his upside as a 45 bat, his defense will provide more than enough value for him to start for a big league team."

Weaknesses

A wiry, athletic frame is often a positive attribute for a baseball player, but Machado falls too far towards the "wiry" end of the spectrum. Standing 6'1 and weighing 170 pounds (soaking wet, seemingly), Machado doesn't possess the natural strength to hit for power. Not every player needs to be a home run hitter, but Machado's power shortcomings are a major detriment, leading to "a lot of soft ground balls and soft line drives," according to TigsTown's Jack Wagner. Machado posted a paltry .077 ISO at Triple-A Toledo, and was down to just .044 in his short stint at the major league level.

It's hard to call Machado's league average speed a weakness, but it pales in comparison to major league shortstops with similar skill sets. He swiped 15 bases in 18 attempts at Toledo last season, but his baserunning instincts aren't the best. TigsTown's Mark Anderson notes that Machado's "jumps from first base aren't the best" but he runs well out of the batter's box. Whether the Tigers are looking at Machado as a potential starter or trade bait, it would be nice if he were more of a threat on the basepaths. Still, he's not a detriment in this regard.

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Evaluation: Chris Crawford, Baseball Prospectus

If Machado is going to become an everyday player, it’s going to be the glove that carries him there. He gets rave reviews from scouts on his feel for defense, and his above-average speed and plus arm make him as likely as any to stay to the right of second base. That’s important, because Machado offers close to zero offensive upside. He struggles with anything that isn’t straight, and even on the fastball his lack of bat speed and strength leads to a lot of weak contact, with more swing-and-miss then one would like from this type of offensive profile.

Projected team: Triple-A Toledo

The Tigers can stash Machado in Triple-A for one more season, and are hoping that he hits well enough to incite a small bidding war. With Jose Iglesias under team control for three more years, the Tigers can afford to start shopping one at some point in 2016. Iggy still has the superior upside -- Machado won't even sniff a .300 batting average at the major league level -- but the decision gets more convoluted than that, provided Machado shows enough growth at the plate to force their hand. For now, he's an excellent insurance policy.

★★★

Note: We're changing up our prospect coverage a bit this year. Instead of an "official" ranking of the best prospects in the system, we're going to profile those that are most interesting to us (and you too, hopefully). Don't worry, no one has been fired, and daily recaps will still happen during the season. We appreciate any constructive feedback you offer, and we'll take your prospect suggestions into account as well.