Manny Machado has been stuck in Sarasota, Florida since the beginning of spring training while recovering from offseason surgery on his left knee. However, the Baltimore Orioles' 21-year-old phenom is set to take a huge step forward in his comeback this week.
As reported by MLB.com, Machado will start his minor league rehab assignment at High-A Frederick on Friday, April 25th:
.@Orioles 3B Manny Machado will start a rehab assignment for Class-A Advanced Frederick on Friday.— MLB (@MLB) April 22, 2014
For the Orioles organization, this news could not be coming at a better time.
Though the team has a respectable 10-10 record and sits just 1.5 games out of first place in the American League East, it's obvious that Manny's absence has hurt the O's.
The two players who have been used as his replacement at third base, Ryan Flaherty and Jonathan Schoop, are a combined 27-for-116 at the plate (.233 BA) with just one home run and 12 RBI between them (per MLB.com).
They've also accounted for six of the Orioles' eight errors.
For Machado, a return to live game action must be incredibly exciting, especially considering his competitive drive.
However, that same drive is why the Orioles need to monitor Machado's rehab extremely closely and make sure they aren't rushing him back.
He's likely never been more anxious to get back to Camden Yards in his life, but Baltimore must ensure that the final decision is an informed one and not left in the hands of an eager 21-year-old.
According to Eduardo A. Encina of The Baltimore Sun, it appears the Orioles already have plans in place to do just that:
Orioles vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson, as well as player development director Brian Graham and minor league infield coordinator Dave Anderson will all supervise Machado’s progress during his rehab assignment, and the club will lean on their assessments regarding when Machado is ready to return.
Allowing Manny to progress slowly will also give manager Buck Showalter a sufficient amount of time to make a decision on whom he'll send down to Triple-A once Machado arrives.
Barring a prolonged injury to J.J. Hardy, his decision will come down to three players: Flaherty, Schoop and Steve Lombardozzi.
A quick look at their hitting statistics thus far shows that Lombardozzi is most likely staying put and that Flaherty might be the odd man out.
Flaherty has been given plenty of opportunities over the last three seasons to prove himself, and while he's impressed with his glove, his performance at the plate has been atrocious.
His .196 batting average so far in 2014 is nothing new—he has a career batting average of .218 in his three years as an Oriole.
So does Showalter send him down and hope a minor league stint provides him with some much-needed confidence?
Or does he decide to demote the 22-year-old Schoop with the intention of allowing him to develop against lesser competition?
Allowing Manny Machado to progress steadily through the O's minor league system will not ensure that he comes back as strong as possible, but it will limit any cause for concern about this injury affecting his future career.
He's the future of the Baltimore Orioles. Missing a few games in 2014 means nothing in the grand scheme of things.
Plus, the more time Showalter is afforded to watch Flaherty and Schoop play, the more informed he will be when it comes time to make room on the roster for Manny.