2015 Orioles preview: Manny Machado

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With Opening Day just over two weeks away, we’ll take a look at a member of the 2015 Orioles every day as they try to defend their American League East title this season.

March 9 – Adam Jones
March 10 – Chris Tillman
March 11 – J.J. Hardy
March 12 – Zach Britton
March 13 – Chris Davis
March 14 – Wei-Yin Chen
March 15 – Jonathan Schoop
March 16 – Travis Snider
March 17 – Kevin Gausman
March 18 – Alejandro De Aza
March 19 – Tommy Hunter

3B Manny Machado

Opening Day age: 22

Contract status: Under club control through the 2018 season

Minor-league options remaining: Three

2014 stats: .278/.324/.431, 12 HR, 32 RBI, 38 R, 2 SB, 354 PA

Why to be impressed: Machado struggled for a sizable portion of the 2014 season when he was healthy, but he nearly matched his 2013 home run total (14) in half as many plate appearances. The right-handed batter also improved his walk rate from 4.1 percent in 2013 to 5.7 percent of his 2014 plate appearances and saw a career-high 3.64 pitches per plate appearance, evidence that bodes well for his continuing development at the plate.

Why to be concerned: The reports have been very favorable this spring, but the Orioles and their fans will continue to hold their collective breath until Machado makes it through an entire season without any knee problems. Having a full spring training will help, but the Orioles cannot afford to see Machado struggle for two months out of the gate like he did last season coming off the first knee surgery.

2015 outlook: Manager Buck Showalter says Machado is running better than he has at any point in his professional career — he’s already stolen a couple bases during spring training — and has even experimented with using the young infielder in the leadoff spot. If he remains healthy, Machado has a good chance to earn his second Gold Glove and is a good bet to hit .280 with a career-high 20 home runs while reestablishing himself as one of the young stars in the game. Despite the adversity he’s experienced in the last two years, Machado is still younger than most rookies will be during the 2015 season, which is quite a thought for a veteran who already has almost 300 major league games under his belt.