LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Tigers spent the offseason trying to hold onto as many prospects as possible, in part to have depth in case of injuries. Pitcher Michael Fulmer topped the list for good reason, given his talent. Shortstop Dixon Machado didn't but was a priority nonetheless.
In other organizations, Machado might be seen as the shortstop of the future after the work he put in as a callup last September. In Detroit, Jose Iglesias has a job for the foreseeable future and a potential ticket for stardom given his defensive work. Iglesias' injury history, however, leaves the Tigers needing depth for the present.
Machado, ranked No. 12 among the team's Top 30 prospects, was still making his way up the Tigers' farm system when stress fractures in both shins cost Iglesias the 2014 season. The result was a procession of replacements, from aging Alex Gonzalez to utility infielders Andrew Romine and Danny Worth to then-prospect Eugenio Suarez. When a bruised left knee knocked Iglesias out of a three-game series at Oakland last May, the Tigers called up Machado to fill in. When a hand injury sidelined Iglesias late last August, Machado stepped in as a September callup and did more than hold down the job.
"Your main goal is to get to the big leagues," Machado said. "If you can play there, you can play anywhere. I feel pretty good about it. I did my job."
The Tigers, by then out of the division race, avoided a September free fall in part thanks to Machado. He got something out of the stint, too.
"Last year's experience makes him believe, 'I can do this,'" infield coach and longtime Major League shortstop Omar Vizquel said.
Defensively, Machado can do this. Not only is he Major League ready in the field, his range can rival Iglesias. He showed off how much ground he can cover in Spring Training with one play after another in the hole or up the middle.
Offense is Machado's main question, now and for the long term. He hit .214 (6-for-28) with no extra-base hits and no walks this spring before being optioned to Triple-A Toledo. He batted .235 (16-for-68) in Detroit last year after hitting .261 (133-for-509) with a .645 OPS in Toledo. However, his .295 (31-for-105) average with eight doubles, four home runs and 18 walks in the Venezuelan Winter League raised hopes that the potential is there.
"I'm trying to put my timing down," Machado said earlier this month, "just try to meet the ball in the right place. We'll see."
If Iglesias gets injured and the Tigers need a shortstop, however, they'll take the offensive sacrifice. It's the defense that will be key.
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.