It is only natural that Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, the 18-year-old phenoms of the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles, are measured against each other by fans and media members. They were drafted first and third overall, respectively, in the top-heavy 2010 draft. They were teammates on the 2009 Team USA 18-and-under team that won a world championship. If we’re lucky, we’ll be talking about them in the same breath for the next decade or more, as the franchise players of this region’s two teams.
With that in mind, one might be tempted to view Machado’s promotion from low Class A Delmarva to high Class A Frederick – which was announced following Machado’s strong performance in Tuesday night’s South Atlantic League all-star game in Salisbury, Md. – as pushing the talented, five-tool shortstop ahead of Harper in the developmental race to the majors.
“It’s human nature: You want to move fast, but at the same time you realize you shouldn’t go too fast,” Machado said earlier this season. “There are certain things I’ve still got to learn. I need to slow it down at a certain point.”
While Machado will be heading to the Carolina League this week for the start of Frederick’s second half, Harper (at least as of this moment) is remaining in Hagerstown, despite superior statistics (.276 average/.376 on-base/.483 slugging for Machado; .330/.429/.586 for Harper) and more “Sally” League games under his belt (38 for Machado, who missed nearly two months with a knee injury; 64 for Harper). Machado, in fact, hit just .182 with a .510 OPS in 13 games since returning from the disabled list.
But the promotion of Machado says little, if anything, about his career trajectory in relation to Harper’s. The biggest difference between the two players is obvious: Unlike Machado, Harper is simultaneously adjusting to the professional life while also learning a new position, right field, after an amateur career spent mostly at catcher. Catching the ball and throwing the ball are the easy part; it’s the subtleties of the position that require time to grasp.
“The biggest thing [to learn] is understanding situations, which he’s gotten better at throughout the season,” said Hagerstown Manager Brian Daubach, responding to a question about Harper’s learning curve in right field. “Kowing when to make all-out throws, and when to take it easy. Knowing which base to throw to. He’s improving at it every day.”
Machado, on the other hand, has always been a shortstop. If anything, he is trying to prove he can hang onto that position, in the face of speculation by a segment of the scouting community that he should be moved to third base.
But there are additional differences between the respective paths to the majors laid out for Machado and Harper by their parent clubs. The Nationals do have some concerns about the field conditions at Potomac, their high Class A Carolina League affiliate — particularly since the primary problem area is in right field, where Harper would be patrolling. One Nationals official said this week that the notion of moving Harper straight to Class AA Harrisburg – and skipping Potomac – is more than media speculation. Under such a scenario, Harper could essentially pull a double-shift at Hagerstown, remaining there through the period during which he would otherwise play at Potomac, before moving to Harrisburg in late summer.
One thing is undeniable about Machado, as it relates to Harper: While Harper was the biggest media attraction at Tuesday night’s Sally League all-star game – and while Adam Duvall of the Augusta GreenJackets was voted the game’s MVP – the night belonged to Machado. Playing in front of his home fans at Perdue Stadium, he got the biggest cheers and had the biggest presence, going 2 for 4 and making an outstanding play in the field on a slow grounder. At 6-3 and 185 pounds, and with a graceful stride and powerful bat, he exudes star power.
And starting Thursday night, he’ll be taking that star power to Frederick, one step closer to the majors and, for now, one step ahead of his fellow phenom.