Editor’s Note: A.E. Schafer aka the red baron has once again compiled a rather impressive list of Cardinals prospects doing a write-up on 40 individual prospects. As a convenience to our readers, he releases the list in a couple big chunks so everyone can read about all of the prospects at once. While that is a convenience to all of us who eagerly await the arrival of prospect lists, it might not be as convenient if you are looking for a player’s particular scouting report. So, as a further convenience, we are putting the individual scouting reports in separate posts to make individual players easier to find. You can find the full lists on our 2018 prospect page here. —CE
#20: Jonatan Machado, OF
5’9”, 155 lbs; Bats/Throws: Left/Left
DOB: 21 January 1999; Signed 2016 (Cuba)
Level(s) in 2017: GCL Cardinals
Notable Numbers: 139 PA, .323/.381/.435, 136 wRC+, 5.8% BB, 9.4% K, 8/10 SB
So, what’s so great about this guy?
Jonatan (in spite of his name seemingly having been changed to ‘Jonathan’ at milb and FanGraphs, I’m sticking with ‘Jonatan’, because that’s what his name actually is, so far as I can tell), Machado was the biggest investment the Cardinals made in the 2016 international signing period, as he inked a deal worth $2.35 million, which should tell you something of the organisation’s belief in his bat, his legs, and his desire to make it.
The thing is, Machado is not the sort of physical specimen one expects to see when looking at the very tippy-top of the international signing pool. You look at the player who gets the most money out of any given class, and you expect to see broad shoulders, long frames, huge power potential. You expect to see Jorge Soler. Luis Robert. Those kinds of projection monsters. You really don’t expect to see a kid at 5’9” and barely over 150 pounds getting the big bonus in a team’s signing group.
And therein lies the risk with Machado. He’s small. He looks strong for his size, at least to me, but strong for 5’9” and 155 is very different from strong for most professional baseballers. He’ll get bigger and stronger, but he is always going to be limited in terms of power, just by the fact he’s a small player. There are other risks that flow from that lack of strength, as pitchers might eventually decide he’s not enough of a threat to keep them out of the strike zone, and simply work over the middle with impunity. The walk rate falls apart, the power isn’t there, and you’re left with a Dee Gordon type, which certainly isn’t a terrible thing to have, but Dee Gordon types are not guarantees to turn into Dee Gordon. There’s a reason you just don’t see that many players with that skillset in the big leagues these days.
However, Jonatan Machado has one thing that no one can take away from him, and something that very, very few players in baseball can outdo: he has absolutely phenomenal hands. One of my favourite old scouting tropes is that of the player swinging a magic wand, rather than a bat, and Machado fits into that kind of category. He can spray the ball to all parts of the field, has enough bat speed to turn on anything on the inner half, and just generally shows those kinds of Jon Jay hitting skills that are so hard to scout until the player arrives and just produces. For much of his first season on U.S. soil, Machado was running a strikeout to walk ratio right around 1:1, with both sitting in the 6-7% range. He seemed to wear down a little late in the year, or maybe just hit a short rough patch, and the overall numbers took a small hit. Overall, though, he basically did exactly what you would want to see from a player of his type.
Hitting isn’t the only tool Machado brings to the table, even if it is the most impressive. He’s a 65-70 grade runner, and it plays both in terms of outstanding range in center field and on the bases. The stolen base just isn’t a huge part of the game these days, and definitely not within the Cards’ minor league system, as the Redbirds tend to be one of the more conservative baserunning organisations, I think, but Machado has the potential to be prolific and efficient enough to legitimately effect the game with his baserunning. An above-average centerfielder, a consistent stolen base threat, and a plus-plus bat control wunderkind makes for a hell of an intriguing package, even if it looks small at first blush.
If he’s good, it will look like: I already mentioned both Jon Jay and Dee Gordon as players who fall into the same category as Machado, but there are others I could bring up. He’s very similar to Magneuris Sierra, only with (I believe), an even better hit tool and better instincts on the bases. I could bring up Juan Pierre, so overrated by broadcasters and underrated by sabermetricians. Probably my favourite version ever of what Jonatan Machado could be, though, is Brett Butler, the leadoff hitter to end all leadoff hitters (non-Rickey division, that is), of my childhood. Butler had elite, elite plate discipline, though, which makes him a tough comp. Machado could have that kind of ability to cover the plate and control the zone, but I have to admit that is an absolute pie in the sky best-case scenario.