By: Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
Jonathan Schoop, Second baseman, Baltimore Orioles
2014 season (Majors): 137 G, 455 AB, .209 BA, 16 HR, 45 RBI, 2 SB, .598 OPS
The Orioles have been a bit erratic at developing prospects over the past few years. Guys like Manny Machado and Matt Wieters have delivered to an extent, but have had their issues with injuries and inconsistencies. Top pitching prospects like Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman are also taking a bit longer to flourish than many expected. Meanwhile, lesser names like Chris Tillman and Zach Britton have found their niche and become key contributors at the top of the rotation and back end of the bullpen, respectively. So where does Jonathan Schoop fit into this?
Well, that question will most likely be answered this season. Schoop has been with the organization since he was 17 years old and taken time to develop. He’s a natural in the field, but never showed much at the plate aside from some slightly above average power for the position and just a bit of speed. He cracked a few top 100 prospect lists, but for the most part, he was not expected to win the second base job last season, and it was certainly a surprise to see him crack 16 home runs — fourth most at his position and more than he ever had in any one Minor League season.
While the power was impressive and his defensive metrics were all near the top of the list among second baseman, the rest showed that he’s still a work in progress. The .209 average, .244 OBP and 122 strikeouts (to only 12 walks) were all, simply put, bad. His speed also didn’t translate, as he stole just two bases. Schoop was never expected to be a big base stealer, but his MInor League numbers indicated he would be capable of at least nearing double digits.
The 23-year-old is doing what he can to work on that, slimming down this offseason and making improving his speed a focus this spring. Will that affect his power? That remains to be seen, but the Orioles would be thrilled if he could hit around 15-20 homers with 10 steals. Unfortunately, none of that matters if he doesn’t cut down on the strikeouts and improve his OBP.
While he is the incumbent second baseman, he could still be pushed by Ryan Flaherty, who hasn’t hit much in three seasons but can play all over the infield. Newly signed Everth Cabrera, who has dealt with issues on and off the field since having an All-Star first half in 2013, will also push Schoop, though the O’s are trying him in the outfield as well to increase versatility.
Schoop has said all the right things early in camp and has diagnosed his issues, knowing he needs to improve his plate discipline and run a bit more on the basepaths. He’s also mentioned his focus on the mental aspect, and having those 137 games played in his rookie year under his belt now heading into 2015 can only help.
Now the tricky part is translating all of that offseason work onto the field. He likely has the inside track for the starting job, and with the O’s healthy, for now, Schoop could seeing more pitches to hit than he did last year in an injury depleted lineup, even though he’ll be at or near the bottom of the order. This will be a big season in his maturity and development, but with the fielding and power already in check, the plate discipline and speed are the focus. There’s loads of potential here for him to take a step forward and become one of the more dangerous second baseman at the plate in the American League.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.