Detroit Tigers: Will Dixon Machado be a starter in 2018?

In a year that has been quite disappointing for the Detroit Tigers, a bench player has quietly been opening eyes.

In Spring Training of 2017, Detroit Tigers infielder Dixon Machado was out of minor league options. He found himself in a roster battle and ultimately earned a spot on the team as a utility player.

Though the Tigers have struggled as a team, Machado has performed quite well in the opportunities that he has been given this season. Through 125 plate appearances, Machado has hit .298/.333/.368 with a homer and 11 RBI.

Machado, who has always been known for his glove, has also proven to be quite versatile this season. Though he was mainly a shortstop in the minor leagues, Machado has played second and third base this season in addition to shortstop. His defensive metrics at shortstop are not exactly off the charts and look relatively average this year, but the sample size has really been too small to judge.

Though Machado is currently blocked from a starting position in the infield, it appears possible that changes could soon be coming. Current third baseman Nicholas Castellanos has already begun taking fly balls in the outfield, possibly to make way for up-and-coming prospect Jeimer Candelario.

Second baseman Ian Kinsler, who was the subject of quite a bit of trade chatter over the summer, is now 35 years old and having a bit of a down year. He has a $12 million option for next season with a $5 million buyout, per Baseball-Reference. It wouldn’t be shocking at all to see Kinsler back in a Tigers uniform in 2018, but it might also make sense for the team to pick up his option and then explore the market for him over the offseason.

However, if Machado is to be rewarded with a full-time job in 2018, his natural position may very well be the most likely destination. According to Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press, there are “many within the organization” who feel that Machado has the skills to eventually be an everyday shortstop. Per Fenech, manager Brad Ausmus has recently discussed the challenge of finding more regular playing time for Machado. Ausmus pointed out the solid performances of veteran players, including current shortstop Jose Iglesias.

“I’m not going to just sit Jose Iglesias right now. He’s played pretty well. He’s an outstanding defender, he’s had a good offensive year and I can’t just punish him just because the team isn’t where we want to be in the standings and then throw his job to Dixon Machado for a month. I’m not going to do that.”

That said, Iglesias is under team control through only next season and will be arbitration-eligible for the final time this winter. As Fenech also points out, Machado, who could project as a similar player to Iglesias, would be a cheaper option at shortstop.

Iglesias has established himself as a top-notch defender and currently ranks third among all qualified MLB shortstops with nine defensive runs saved. He would leave big shoes to fill from a defensive standpoint. But still, not only has Machado played well enough to challenge for a starting position, but the Tigers are now entering an era in which it is very possible they may not be competitive for a few years.

Given the team’s present situation, it would make plenty of sense to give a young, affordable player such as Machado a chance to show what he can do in an everyday role. It should be very interesting to see if a starting job opens up for him.

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