On and off field, home elusive for Machado

Forced to spend offseason away from Venezuela, prospect enters camp without obvious role

On and off field, home elusive for Machado

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Dixon Machado is restless.

"I'm excited," he said. "I just want to play. I want the games to start already."

In a normal offseason, the Tigers' slick-fielding shortstop prospect would have come into Spring Training in game shape following winter ball in Venezuela. This winter, for the first time, he stayed away. The situation in his home country is too dangerous, his worries for his family too great. Even for players who aren't superstars, it's a risk.

Machado, who turns 25 years old on Tuesday, played a couple years ago, and his family suffered break-ins at two different locations. He played last winter and saw the long lines for food, the economic calamity. The danger isn't just for the superstars.

"When the season is over, you'd like to go back," he said, "but you can't."

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Instead, Machado stayed in Lakeland, got a house for his wife and son and worked out. He gained weight and body strength in the process, addressing possibly his biggest weakness as a player in a way that winter ball couldn't. He also got bored, unaccustomed to an offseason.

Machado singles to right

"When I'm bored lately, I start watching videos of baseball and stuff like that, because I want to play," he said. "I never played baseball in video games, but a month ago I was playing [a game] with some cousin that I had never played. Normally I never play. I don't like [video games]. I just saw my cousin play, and I jumped in.

"I want to play, because I didn't play for so long. I'm just excited."

In many ways, Machado is a man without a home, on or off the field. While he works and trains in the states, he prepares to compete for a role that doesn't seem to exist on the Tigers' roster.

Had the Tigers made the expected offseason shift to get younger and leaner, Machado would likely have a spot. General manager Al Avila said during the Winter Meetings that Machado would have been in line to start had they traded Ian Kinsler or Jose Iglesias. Instead, Machado is blocked from a starting role and out of Minor League options after spending most of the last two seasons at Triple-A Toledo.

Asked what the next step is in Machado's development, Ian Kinsler put it best: Opportunity.

"I think he's ready to try the next level of baseball," Kinsler said.

Machado stays with it for out

With his fielding prowess, the Tigers don't expect Machado will clear waivers. If they could keep him another year, he could find a role, with Kinsler potentially a free agent. But the timing doesn't work that way.

"It's always interesting when you see guys that get stuck in that type of position," Kinsler said. "He should be looking at an opportunity soon. I think opportunity's probably the next step for him."

If the opportunity doesn't come in Detroit, it'll likely come somewhere else. But Machado wants to find a way to stick with the Tigers, the only organization he has known since signing as a 16-year-old in 2008.

"I can't control that," Machado said. "They know what they have to do. I just have to find a way to make this team, and that's it. Simple as that."

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. 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.