Miami high school shortstop can hit for power, cover ground
June 5, 2010 4:00 AM
By Chuck Finder Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
He is a hotshot Miami high school shortstop. He is of Dominican descent, visiting there just last weekend. He is the product of a household without a father. He is tall and lanky, smooth and slick, with future power in the forecast at whatever position he settles. He is represented by agent-to-the-stars Scott Boras.
That's the Alex Rodriguez story.
That's also the story in the making of Manny Machado, who, by the way, wears the same number -- 3 -- that A-Rod donned in Seattle and Texas.
"I got to play against one and coach one -- the similarities are eerie," said Lazaro Fundora, who played against A-Rod's Westminster Christian while attending Miami Brito Private School, where for the past four years he has coached Machado, 18. "They grew up without a family, a core family. Both are Dominican. Both play shortstop. Both make the game look really easy at the high-school level. They both were fed the same impressions, that they're going to fill up too much to play the shortstop position.
"I played against [A-Rod] in high school. That game, our starting pitcher was so nervous. I wasn't a pitcher, but I ended up on the mound, and he hit a grand slam off me. That was the home run that gave him a little extra in his signing bonus."
It's far too premature to anoint the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Machado as A-Rod caliber, but some major league club selecting among the top five Monday night figures to snag itself a prospective power-hitting infielder. The Pirates stand in a prime position to draft him, at No. 2, though two obstacles remain:
• He is advised by Boras who, through difficult and protracted negotiations, landed the highest bonus in team history with Pedro Alvarez's $6,355,000 two years ago at No. 2 overall.
• He maintains that, if this draft business doesn't work out, he could always settle into shortstop for Florida International University, whose scholarship offer he accepted last fall.
Asked if this entire draft process was starting to wear on him, Machado said: "Not really, man. ... It has been a great situation, with all the attention scouts have given me. I thank them each time I see them. It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing.
"Maybe twice if I go to FIU."
Not that he has anything against the Pirates. He thoroughly enjoyed one of their scouts, Southeast supervisor Rodney Henderson, who supposedly became such a fixture at Brito that he unbuttoned his dress shirt and tossed batting practice to the kids.
"He hit me a couple of times," Machado said, pausing to chuckle.
Pirates folks consider it a case of mistaken identity: Henderson, they say, has a highly accurate arm.
Unmistakably, Machado had star quality from his first swing at Brito, a pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade academy with 83 kids in the high school. The little baseball school that could, Brito has sent at least one player into the major-league draft's 50 rounds every year since 1995, Fundora said. But nobody as high as Machado.
"His story is funny," Fundora recalled of Machado's first varsity appearance. "We had him pinch-hitting in a big situation, against Westminster Christian actually."
"In the sixth inning, coach says, 'Manny, go hit,' " Machado added. "Right when I went to hit, they changed pitchers. He said, 'You're a freshman, they don't know you, they'll set you up with a fastball the first pitch.' It was a fastball, and I hit right down the third-base line [for a triple]. Won the game."
His stock soared after he played well in the Pan American Games 18-and-under baseball tournament in which the United States, behind catcher Bryce Harper, pitcher Jameson Taillon and Machado's two homers, won America's inaugural gold in that tournament.
This season, on a middling Brito team, he batted .639 in 86 at-bats with 12 homers and 56 RBIs and 44 of his 55 hits went for extra bases.
When opponents started to walk Machado incessantly, Fundora moved him to No. 1 in the order to try to wrangle him extra plate appearances. One foe walked him with the bases loaded and two outs.
"I didn't know I was coaching Barry Bonds," Fundora said. "I was looking at the [opposing] coach, 'Are you serious?' You're talking about 17-year-old kids. It was pretty weird."
He prefers to remain at shortstop, although some talent evaluators wonder if he'd be better off at second or third base, even outfield: "I'm just a player ... if they want me to move positions, I'll just have to adjust."
Shortstop is where he started long ago, around age 5 in the local park with his cousin and his uncle, Geovany Brito. "He's basically my dad. That's basically my second home," he said of his uncle's place across the street.
His pro power is expected to arrive later.
"Yeah, well, I'm hoping it will develop the next few years, depending on what I do," Machado said. "Just depending on if I sign, I'll be able to work out in the offseason."