Orioles call up top prospect Machado

Are the Baltimore Orioles rushing Manny Machado?

Sure they are. But I like the move, for a team that still — yes, still — is involved in the American League East and wild-card races.

If the Orioles were going to promote their top position player prospect at some point this season, they chose the perfect moment: Machado is expected to debut at third base Thursday night, at home, against the last-place Kansas City Royals.

Above all, the circumstances are ideal because of how the Orioles have played lately: They just swept the Seattle Mariners and have won five straight overall. Machado, who turned 20 last month, isn’t expected to arrive at Camden Yards and save the season. He’s supposed to play a decent third base, hit low in the order, and bring energy during the August dog days.

He can do that much. So, this could work for the Orioles as long as they keep the expectations right there.

Defense might be the biggest near-term concern. Machado, selected just two spots behind Bryce Harper in the 2010 draft, has spent virtually his entire pro career at shortstop. Over 109 games at Class AA Bowie this year, Machado has played third base only twice.

Despite Machado’s considerable athleticism and aptitude, he’s about to learn that the major-league game is much faster than anything he saw in the Eastern League. And it’s especially quick at third base, a reflex position that can take years to master.

That said, it’s not as if Machado is succeeding Brooks Robinson. Wilson Betemit and Robert Andino have played the position recently, and neither has done so with distinction. Machado, meanwhile, had been hitting .462 in the minors this month.

Yes, that is a small sample size — two levels below the AL East. But this is a small-sample-size time of year. If Machado was going to be a September call-up, anyway, then why not let him debut when his confidence is at a high point?

Besides, let’s not lose sight of the big picture here: The Orioles are second in the AL East, 4 1/2 games behind the New York Yankees. They are in a three-way tie for the AL wild card. No one expected them to be this good — certainly not their fans, who are (maybe) starting to think about postseason baseball for the first time since 1997.

To many of them, Machado’s debut will be further evidence that the Orioles have built a team worth watching. And when Orioles fans decide to follow their new favorite player on Twitter (@MannyMachado3), they will notice that Machado’s avatar shows him sitting beside a onetime Orioles shortstop prospect who also debuted at age 20 and played some third base early in his career.

Cal Ripken Jr.