Baltimore Orioles top prospect SS Manny Machado debuted last night in the Delmarva Shorebird’s 2-1 victory.  Machado, who was named the top shortstop prospect in all of the minor leagues, did not disappoint going 2-3 with a 2-run triple that proved to be the game winner.  Let the hype train begin.  Not that Machado does not deserve a good amount of buzz, as he is an exciting prospect.  The comparisons to Alex Rodriguez are a bit much, but with his skill set and apparent feel for the game of baseball there is not reason not to predict a successful major league career.  The question for Orioles fans is how soon can we expect Machado’s major league career to begin?

Baltimore Sun Orioles beat reporter Jeff Zriebec probably added some fuel to the Machado hype fire in a profile piece he wrote earlier in the week:

The minor league season gets underway for most of the Orioles’ affiliates on Thursday, and the clear headliner will be Machado, the third overall pick in 2010 out of Brito High School in Miami. Machado will start the season for Single-A Delmarva, but those who saw him play this spring are already imagining how quickly he could move through the system.

Though he does not speculate on how many years Machado will be in the minors, there is growing sentiment that the young SS could be on the fast track to join the Orioles.  Orioles fans have seen both Matt Wieters and Brian Matusz arrive on the fast track.  Their situations were decidedly different since they were closer to finished products when the Orioles drafted them out of college, but could Machado be the Orioles SS as soon as 2013?  It is not outside of the realm of possibility.  A lot depends on how quickly Machado moves up from A ball this year, and whether or not they are willing to promote him twice in one season.  If Machado is at Bowie (AA) by the end of they year, he would likely be in AAA in 2012.  Opening Day 2013 is not so far fetched, at all.

The Orioles have a big decision to make between now and whenever Machado is ready to hit the bigs.  Assuming Machado proves he is capable defensively as a shortstop, what does the club do about current SS JJ Hardy?  Hardy, who has already made a favorable impression on the club and their fans, is a free agent at the end of the year.  How Machado plays in the minors this year could have a huge impact on whether or not the Orioles look to extend Hardy with a multi-year deal.

In a piece for, our friend and fellow blogger Stacey Long makes a case for the O’s extending Hardy.  I agree that it makes sense to extend Hardy as he is in the prime years of his career, and he is a top flight defensive shortstop regardless of whether his offensive numbers bounce back.  Plus it makes sense if Machado is not ready in 2 years and it does not hurt to have depth on the major league club.  The problem may be that the Orioles thoughts about when Macahdo will arrive in Baltimore could have an impact on what kind of offer they send Hardy’s way.  If Hardy has a big year, he could be in a position to demand more money and years than the Orioles are willing to throw his way. Should the club make an effort to extend Hardy before the season is over?  And is Machado being over-hyped already?