As of Friday the 14th, Jonathan Schoop is sitting 11-23 in Spring Training and ripping the cover off the ball. I just watched him knock a double off the left field wall on a first pitch fastball from Mike Pelfrey.
The buzz is growing, and Schoop is quickly entering the picture as the potential starting second basemen for opening day.
As Ken Rosenthal reported yesterday, a scout said that Jonathan Schoop is the team’s clear front-runner at second base. That got me thinking a little. While I do believe in Schoop’s bat long term and think he will become a formidable player with potential first division attributes, I still question whether he should be given the job just so quickly. This is not about talent level here, but more-so about the roster depth and the ability to further groom Schoop without affecting him long-term. I wrote a detailed scouting report on Schoop this off-season, which I encourage everyone to read. My thoughts on his overall play are entailed there.
There are a few reasons why I question the insertion of Schoop so early into this season. Let us analyze each of these reasons and see if there truly warrants enough to push him into the Orioles’ lineup.
1. Fastball Killing Machine, Secondary Struggling
Make no mistake, Jonathan Schoop loves him some fastballs. There has not been a better fastball hitter in the Orioles’ minor league system in quite some time, maybe since that guy Manny Machado. Before those two, you might have to go all the way back to Nick Markakis.
The lightning-quick bat speed, the quick hands and the easy-flicking wrists all attribute to Schoop crushing fastballs. Some players just have a knack for jumping all over the heat, and Schoop is certainly one of them. It is important to note that he has shortened his swing, lessened the noise and truly become a better contact hitter. In fact, I usually laugh when I see a pitcher throw a belt-high fastball against Schoop and he knocks it into the outfield for a hit. Every scouting report by this time should say that is a terrible idea. Of course pitchers cannot just stop throwing fastballs either, so Schoop really has a skill developing here.
However, this isn’t about how well he hits the fastball, it is more-so about how he struggles still against secondary pitches. His Spring Training numbers are great, but they are not everything and it still bothers me how much people still look into them. Jonathan Schoop has practically all of his hits against fastballs, and he is still showing signs of struggling against secondary pitches. Again, he is young and has already shown small signs of improvement against them. But he needs some more time, and I just wonder whether calling him up so early and handing over the keys to second base is the greatest idea. Schoop still drops his elbow and his swing will become more elongated against good secondary pitches. He does not have the eye for a good off-speed pitch. It was noticeable in the Arizona Fall League and I have talked to many scouts about it in the past year. He missed a lot of time last season, and maybe those repetitions would be easier to get down in AAA-Norfolk.
2. There is depth in the Majors, although Schoop may be on their playing level already
The Orioles do have Ryan Flaherty and Jemile Weeks still. They have players beyond that in Alexi Casilla, Ivan De Jesus, Alex Gonzalez and Cord Phelps. No, none of those names excite us. None of them should realistically start for a playoff contending team. But depth is depth and the Orioles could probably get away with Flaherty and/or Weeks starting until they truly felt Schoop was prepared to take over the reigns at second base. I wrote about Flaherty in detail earlier in the off-season, and my thoughts still remain the same.
Maybe the Orioles feel as if Schoop is already on the same playing level as Flaherty and Weeks. I think he is close, and I do think he will eventually overtake both. However, the baseball season is a long and treacherous adventure, and a lot can happen. I would hate for the Orioles to rush Schoop any quicker than they already have. He has truly impressed me with how quickly he has learned and improved since his time in the lower minors, so maybe I am not giving him enough credit. I just realize that the Orioles have a real talent here and I want them to be 100% certain that he is ready to evolve at the Major League level rather than hit turmoil.
It is possible that the Orioles already feel that time has come. They would know better than anyone. The fact that the Orioles have a history of rushing prospects to the majors only leads me to believe this is certainly the case. Wherever he may start, let us hope that Schoop can continue his growth into the first division potential that he has.