"He's just polished. I see all the guys that are compared in baseball, and his name is never really mentioned in there and I like that. Just let him continue to fly under the radar and do what he does. The kid is special." -- Adam Jones, to media members this season
Since Manny Machado's major league debut on Aug. 9, 2012, the Baltimore Orioles have won more games than any other team in the American League. He's 11 months younger than Mike Trout and three months older than Bryce Harper, but is often left out of conversations about the game's best young player.
If the season ended today, the American League MVP would almost surely go to Machado, who plays for a first-place team that ranks first or second in the league in hits, doubles, extra-base hits, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS.
Machado, 23, is the 10th player in the last 100 years to record 25 extra-base hits in his team's first 31 games. Of the previous nine, four went on to win the MVP: Lou Gehrig in 1927, Stan Musial in 1948, Willie Mays in 1965 and Kevin Mitchell in 1989. Six of those nine players are in the Hall of Fame (Gehrig, Musial, Mays, Hank Aaron, Paul Waner and Earl Averill).
Machado's approach at the plate hasn't changed drastically from a year ago, when his walk and strikeout rates were the best of his career. He's still swinging at about the same number of pitches both in and out of the strike zone (28 percent).
Perhaps the largest difference from 2015 to 2016 is that he's hitting everything, and hitting it hard -- regardless of where he's being pitched.
Though his current .368 BABIP (54 points above his career mark) might give some reason to believe he's bound for regression, his hard-hit rate gives the impression that his numbers are legit. He ranks third in the majors in hard-hit rate this season (27 percent).
On defense, Machado has 62 career defensive runs saved, second-most in the AL since his debut (Alex Gordon, 69). He won the AL's Platinum Glove in 2013 but broke out offensively in 2015, joining Alex Rodriguez (1998) as the only players in MLB history to hit 35 home runs and steal 20 bases in their age-22 season.
Machado's combination of power and defensive ability at this age is rare; according to the Elias Sports Bureau, he's the sixth player to hit 75 home runs and win two Gold Gloves before his 24th birthday. The others are Al Kaline, Johnny Bench, Cesar Cedeño, Ken Griffey Jr. and Andruw Jones, making Machado the only infielder to do it.
Of the players above, only four also had a top-five MVP finish to their names before turning 24: Machado and Hall of Famers Griffey, Bench and Kaline.
Couple all of this with the fact he is now playing shortstop in place of injured J.J. Hardy, and Machado won't be able to stay out of the spotlight for much longer.
The Orioles will face the Tigers on Friday night in the second game of a seven-game homestand, and that bodes well for Machado. In 19 games at Camden Yards this season, he's hitting .423/.471/.833 -- all the best in the AL at a batter's home park -- with 11 doubles, seven home runs and 19 RBIs.