Machado Rockets To Top Of Prep Draft Class

Pedro Guerra has a unique way of describing the raw skills of Manny Machado, the top-ranked high school position player in the country.

"The power he has is natural," said Guerra, who coaches the phenom at Miami's Brito Private School. "He is only 17 years old. He's skinny. He doesn't lift weights—we have kept him a virgin in that aspect. We will leave (weight training) to the experts at the next level."

Whether that next level is college or the pros is still a question for Machado, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound shortstop who made first-team All-State last season after hitting .636 with eight homers and 53 RBIs. He also made just three errors all season—and only one was a fielding miscue.

Machado was then selected as a first-team middle infielder for the preseason high school All-Americans, which is voted on by major league scouting directors.

"Growing up, my dream was always to play in the majors in front of thousands of people," said Machado, who was born in Miami and is of Dominican descent. "But I now realize that going to college is the only way to have a guaranteed future."

A signing bonus of about $1.4 million would be a pretty good guarantee, too, and could change his mind about college. Jiovanni Mier, a similarly-built (6-foot-2, 175 pounds) shortstop from Southern California got that much money last year, when the Houston Astros drafted him 21st overall.

Were Machado to sign, he said he would probably trade in his gray 1999 Cadillac DeVille and get a new Range Rover.

"I'm a big kid," he said, "and I need a big car."

Machado's adviser is famed agent Scott Boras, which means the drafting team can expect a tough negotiation.  And Machado also has the leverage that comes with a scholarship to play for Florida International coach Turtle Thomas.

"I like Turtle and how he is turning the program around," Machado said when asked why he chose Florida International. "He's already taught me a couple things about hitting."

Golden Panthers assistant coach Sean Allen said Machado is the highest-ranked recruit ever to sign with the school—in any sport.

Allen also said scouts have compared Machado to Alex Rodriguez at the same age, and the similarities are intriguing—both power-hitting shortstops from Miami high schools and of Dominican heritage.

Machado, who has a 3.0 grade-point average and is interested in studying sports management, said he likes the idea of staying close to home. His parents are divorced, and he said he rarely speaks to his father. But he is close to his mother, with whom he lives, and he also has an older sister.

No matter what he decides, Machado will need to make a huge adjustment in a few months. If he turns pro, he becomes a very rich young man and will hit the road in the low minors. If he goes to FIU, he will leave Brito's senior class of just 32 kids to join a sprawling campus of more than 39,000 students.

"FIU is like its own city," Machado said.

Golden Opportunity

While a transition awaits off the field, Machado is comfortable on the diamond. Even when he took his first international trip this past fall, traveling to Venezuela, Machado was not fazed. He led an American  team to a gold-medal win over seven-time champion Cuba at the 2009 Pan-Am AAA Championships.

Reports out of Venezuela said Machado "stole the show", blasting two homers and driving in nine runs in six pool-play games against Cuba, Colombia and Venezuela.

In the title game, Machado broke up a no-hit bid in the sixth inning to help Team USA rally to a 6-1 win in what he calls the highlight of his career.

"It was the first time an American under-18 team had won that tournament, and Manny was a pleasure to coach," Team USA coach Garye Lafevers said. "He has outstanding instincts. He does little things that come natural to him because of his awareness on the field."

Lafevers said he considers Machado a five-tool player.

"His other skills are obvious, but his speed is better than what he represents," Lafevers said. "When he needs speed, it's there, and you go, 'Wow, where did that come from?' I could see him going in the first round."

If so, it would be a first for the Brito program. The small-school power, which has won five state titles since starting the program in the early 1990s, has already sent one alum to the big leagues—corner infielder Gaby Sanchez of the Florida Marlins.

Guerra, who became Brito's coach the year after Sanchez graduated, has known Machado since the eighth grade.

"I thought he was special the first time I saw him—impressive arm, natural hands," Guerra said. "He is a contact hitter, but with his power, it is inevitable that balls go out.

"As a freshman, we sent him to pinch hit. It was his first varsity at-bat, and he doubled to left-center."

While Machado is known as a fastball hitter, Guerra said his pupil can handle curves as well.

"All young hitters will struggle with breaking balls," Guerra said. "But Manny adjusts. If you get him on a curve the first time, you won't get him the next one. The other day (in an exhibition game), he hit a home run on a fastball and then a home run on a curve."

With the weight-training and nutritional help he will get at the next level, Machado could gain 30 to 40 pounds by the time his body matures, Guerra said.

Will Machado grow out of the shortstop position? Ernie Padron, who coaches another Miami small-school baseball power, Florida Christian, doesn't think so.

"If he stays healthy, I feel he is a can't-miss big-leaguer," Padron said. "He's one of the best prospects to come out of (South Florida) in a long while. He's got great tools, terrific bat speed. I feel he has what it takes to stay at shortstop in the majors."

Machado, who said he works on his baseball skills for five hours a day, seven days a week, loves the game—no matter what position.

"Defense is what I work on the most," Machado said. "But I enjoy all of it—hitting, running the bases, catching ground balls. I have no stress when I play baseball."

Machado usually provides stress—for opposing pitchers.

"He is the most complete player I've ever seen at this age level," Guerra said. "He doesn't have a weakness.

"I think he was born to play baseball."

Walter Villa is a freelance writer based in Miami.