The A's are known to experiment on the margins and welcome players with flashes of brilliance mixed with misery. In previous years, their names were Hendricks, Semien and Canha. I wanted to take the time to examine several players "on the borderline" of sinking or swimming. While the jury is still out on their future careers, there is enough data to discuss hypothetical futures. First there was Kirby Snead- next up is Vimael Machin.
Machin's path to the majors started in the eastern part of Puerto Rico, where he was born and raised. He graduated high school there, was drafted in the 29th round but decided to attend college at Virginia Commonwealth University. This interesting article outlined how Machin's father helped him become a more versatile player on defense. Going to college paid off as the Cubs picked Machin in the 10th round of the 2015 Draft, a round that also featured A's reliever Tyler Cyr. The Cubs threw Machin into the wolves at A/A- ball, where he hit well below the Mendoza Line. He repeated these levels in 2016 and had wRC+'s over the league average mark of 100, including an impressive 25 game cameo in Iowa to end the season.
Across the 2018-19 seasons, Machin spend just under 200 games at the Cubs AA team, the Tennessee Smokies. Just outside Dollywood, he played every infield position and hit above league average. During a game at the end of the '19 season, Machin spent an inning at every defensive position. He recorded an assist in his first action at RF and allowed a stolen base as the catcher. The bulk of that season he played SS, followed by 2B and 3B. He was Rule V eligible at the end of that season and the A's picked him in the ominous month of December 2019, one pick after the Giants selected Blue Jays farmhand Dany Jimenez. In the minor league portion of that Rule V Draft, the Mets selected Adam Oller from the Giants.
To say the 2020 season did not go as planned is a bold understatement. However, the labor battle that truncated the season allowed the A's to hide Machin on their active roster for the entire season. The Rule V Draft stipulates that a team must roster a player in the big leagues all season to "keep" them through their arbitration years. While Jimenez returned to the Blue Jays, Matt Chapman's injury and former top prospect Franklin Barreto's total failure gave Machin a brief glimpse of playing time. In 71 plate appearances, Machin hit .206 with a .290 expected batting average (xba).
Thanks to unique circumstances, Machin was now an Athletic long term. This allowed the team to keep him in Las Vegas for his first full season in AAA, where he hit .295. While Machin's big league cameo was longer this season, his performance was worse. His xba was .141 and he struck out an uncharacteristic 27% of the time. Going into Machin's age 28 season, the A's cycled through another crop of stars. When the A's were experimenting with Sheldon Neuse in the big leagues, Machin spent 64 games in Las Vegas and was one of two Coast League hitters who walked more than they struck out, alongside Salt Lake's Matthew Stefanic.
In a season where the Oakland offense looked unprofessional, Machin was finally given a full role on a big league roster. So how did he do? Here were his final season stats:
All this with a -0.1 fWAR and -4 OAA at his primary position, 3B. To anyone quickly observing the A's dismal offensive performances, Machin did not stand out. He did not qualify, but his walk rate was the second highest on the team among players with 150+ PA's. His K% was fourth best on the team, behind only Kemp, Andrus and Jonah Bride. Across the three main pitch categories (fastballs, breaking, off-speed) Machin's expected stats were higher than his actual averages. If there is any real point of weakness for Machin it is the slider, which he hit a woeful .077 (.103 xba) off of. Contrast that with his clean .300 xba off fastballs.
The defensive statistics may not have liked Machin's play at 3B, but he did have some fun and memorable highlights there. Including this against the Mets:
My favorite memory of Machin's play in 2022 was a tremendous showing vs. TEX in mid-September, where his two doubles won the game for the A's (despite almost costing it with an error)
If his K/BB % were to continue across a full season, Machin would rank in the 60th percentile league wide in both categories. Ketel Marte and Wilmer Flores both finished seasons with very similar BB/K rates and wRC+'s just above 100. The Fangraphs "steamer", a projection tool of some repute, predicts Machin to continue those walk and strikeout rates with a .246 average and 1.3 fWAR. That would make him the third best hitter on the '22 roster, which isn't very impressive exactly. While translating those numbers through a full season will not be easy, there is a clear path there for Machin to stay relevant.
Thanks to an awesome knowledge of the strike zone and average bat speed, I believe Vimael Machin will be a key component of the 2023 Athletics team. The upcoming shift rules will surely make all left handed hitters more valuable. If he pulls this off, it could be one of the savviest Rule V pickup's in recent memory. In a period of time where everything seemed to go wrong for the A's at a big league level, Machin signifies a tiny positive in the overall development of the roster.
What do you think? Please discuss memories on Vimael Machin's season and theories/projections on his potential future in Oakland.