It's hardly a stunning revelation that the Orioles are not getting much out of their second basemen. After Brian Roberts was injured after three games, second base has been in the hands of Ryan Flaherty and Alexi Casilla. Casilla's slash stats of .219/.242/.281 (all stats are through April 30) are good only in comparison to Flaherty's .125/.210/.232. The Orioles' consensus #3 prospect, Jonathan Schoop, is currently at AAA Norfolk and many observers think he's being groomed as a second baseman. Offensively, Schoop is not lighting it up at Norfolk, with a line of .222/.315/.321. But how is he doing? Could he be promoted and help at some point? I've worked nine of the Tides' games through May 1, either datacasting for milb.com or scoring for BIS, and these are my observations.
Schoop began the season as a shortstop, playing occasionally at second base. He played more frequently at second base on a recent road trip and his bat warmed up, so, he's been playing more frequently at second base. I think that's a good move; I think it's very unlikely that Schoop can stay at shortstop. He's a big young man, and he's not as mobile as Omar Vizquel or Ozzie Smith. While a big man can play shortstop well - think Cal Ripken - he will need either a strong throwing arm or outstanding positioning instincts. I don't think Schoop has the arm he'd need to be a shortstop; his throws from medium depth and on double plays fell short and had to be scooped by the first baseman. And as a native of Curacao he doesn't have Ripken-esque instincts and knowledge.
I've seen and recorded 32 of Schoop's plate appearances. What I've seen gives me reason for optimism. Even though he hasn't been extremely successful, Schoop hasn't been overmatched at the plate.He's had three walks and seven strikeouts in the games I've seen, in line with his season totals of eight walks and seventeen strikeouts in 92 plate appearances. He's earned one hit-by-pitch, reached base three times on errors, had five base hits, and been retired on thirteen balls in play. Of the eighteen balls he's put in play, he's had four hard-hit balls and four softly-hit balls by my admittedly unsubstantiated and inconsistently-applied measurements. He's generally making good, solid contact, especially for a 21-year-old in Triple-A,
Schoop also hasn't driven me crazy by swinging at a lot of pitches outside the strike zone. Schoop has seen 126 pitches in his 32 plate appearances. He's taken 43 balls, 27 called strikes, and fifteen swinging strikes. He's fouled 23 pitches off and put 18 balls into play. I haven't had the resources to analyze other players for comparison, but I feel safe in saying that he knows the pitches not to swing at. It's also interesting that he's swung at three of the 32 first pitches he's seen. That may be too low; pitchers will start to groove first-pitch strikes if they know he's not going to swing.
In the last three games I've worked, April 27, 28, and 29, I made a special effort to study Schoop's defense at second base. It's clear that he needs to work on the technical details; on April 27, he messed up the transition from glove hand to throwing hand on a double-play turn when he landed awkwardly on his pivot foot; on April 28, his feet were in an awkward position on a sharp grounder hit right at him and the play wasn't smooth. On the other hand, especially on April 29, he handled more routine plays smoothly enough. I don't think he's yet a good second baseman, but I want to see more.
Jonathan Schoop would benefit from spending the full year at AAA. He needs to master the technical details of fielding second base. I think he has a good knowledge of the strike zone; he needs to learn how to hit less-than-perfect pitches and how to use his size to hit for more power. On the other hand, the Orioles are trying to win games now. I think Schoop would be an improvement over Ryan Flaherty, right now; he's probably not an overall improvement over Alexi Casilla. But if Casilla continues to play poorly, and the Orioles start to play worse, promoting Schoop may be an irresistible option. Next week, I'll look at two other options at Norfolk that may be better for the team than promoting Schoop.