With the daily updates on the rapidly progressing rehab of Manny Machado (here's the latest) the Orioles will soon have three players with only one position in which to play them. The latest plan for Manny is to play seven innings at third base on Monday before serving as the designated hitter on Tuesday in extended spring training. After that, it's possible that he could be sent out on a minor league rehab assignment, which are limited to 20 days at most. With his return in sight, let's take a look at what the Orioles will do at second base when he returns.
Though Lombardozzi has been playing second base on just about a daily basis, while Schoop and Flaherty split the third base duties - that won't continue when Machado returns. Eventually Machado will return to being an every day player at third and the other three will have to fight it out for second.
Even though he has the ability to play other positions, Steve Lombardozzi has played exclusively second base for the Orioles this season. He's been solid defensively while putting up a pretty empty batting average on the offensive side of the ball. His slash line on the season is .286/.298/.321. He has yet to draw a walk on the season and has just one extra base hit (a triple). Since this is obviously a small sample, let's peek at the per pitch numbers to see what kind of hitter he's been so far.
In his career, Lombardozzi has an 11.6% strikeout rate and even though he's currently striking out 17.5% of the time, I'd expect that number to regress to his career norms. In 2014, he's swinging at an above average 34% of pitches outside of the strike zone but he's also making an above average amount of contact on these pitches connecting almost 71% of the time. When pitchers are throwing him strikes, he's not swinging and missing at all. His contact percentage on pitches in the zone this year is an elite 98.5%. Putting all this together, we have a hitter who swings at pitches out of the zone more than he should which leads to very few walks (career 3.4% walk rate) but who also makes a ton of contact which will keep his strikeout rate down. He doesn't show much power so his production will depend on the quality of the contact.
Currently sporting a 28% line drive rate, many of his batted balls are currently falling in for base hits making his production adequate for a second baseman. Buck appears to believe his production is good enough having started him in 13 of the last 14 games at second base.
The next option for the Orioles to play second base is the player everyone assumed would be the second baseman going into the season, Ryan Flaherty. Flaherty seems to have become the third wheel in the race for playing time between him, Lombardozzi, and Schoop. That's likely because of his slow start to the season which includes 42 plate appearances (SSS warning) of .179/.238/.231 hitting. Every once in a while it seems like Flaherty possesses enough power to make his game work, but that appears to be more of a tease than anything. At 27 years old, there may not be a lot of growth left in Flaherty's game either.
His defense has certainly improved over his time with the club to the point where he posted a 14.1 UZR/150 in 2013. However, this has been his greatest asset as an Oriole as the stick just hasn't come with him to the park often enough. Flaherty now sports a career line of .217/.276/.365, which just isn't good enough to be an every day player. In my opinion, Flaherty is best served at this point in his career as a utility player. His ability to fill in all over the diamond is extremely valuable. He should be used in that capacity and not as the starting second baseman.
The last option, Jonathan Schoop has been playing mostly third base recently since playing his first two games of the season at second and has also played a fair amount of second base in the minors. After beginning his season 2 for his first 18, he's picked up his game at the plate substantially. Since April 7th, he's gone 12 for 32 with 6 doubles and a home run. If you prefer slash lines, that's .375/.375/.656. In an admittedly small sample (which I broke up even further) he's started to produce some of the power that we were hoping he would show as he matured as a hitter.
However, when you glance at Schoop's peripherals the shine begins to wear off a bit. He hasn't yet walked on the season while also striking out in 30% of his at bats. Since the sample is so small, lets see if the per pitch numbers back up his strikeout and walk numbers. He's swinging at 45% of pitches outside the strike zone, while the major league average is just 28.8%. Meanwhile he's only making contact 59% of the time when he swings at pitches out of the zone. On pitches in the zone, he's making contact 81% of the time compared to the 86% MLB average. The low contact rate is contributing to his incredibly high swinging strike rate of 16.4%. Unfortunately, with this kind of per pitch data his 30% strikeout rate may not come down much without a change in approach.
While the potential just oozes out of him, it looks like Schoop may need a little more minor league seasoning in order to work on his plate discipline. There is also the added benefit of securing the extra year of service time. If he spends around two weeks in the minors this season, that would be enough for the Orioles to secure an extra year of service time on Schoop. If he were clearly the Orioles best option at second base, I wouldn't suggest it but with Lombardozzi playing well that's not a necessity. He's also made three pretty costly errors at third base already this season.
If the Orioles decide to keep five outfielders on the roster (even though they're only using four) I would say that the club should send down Schoop. He easily possesses the most potential of the three players in the long term, but he still needs some work on his approach at the plate. A month or so of at bats at AAA could be exactly what he needs. The Orioles should send him down with a singular focus on plate discipline. In the mean time, Lombardozzi can hold down the fort at second base with Flaherty moving back to a full time utility role. When Schoop is ready to take over full time at second base, the Orioles will have two good utility infielders.
The other option would be to DFA either Delmon Young or Steve Pearce. The club isn't using Pearce at all and I've already stated my case for Young to go. While unlikely, this could be an option considering that both Lombardozzi and Flaherty can play the outfield should the need arise.
It should be an interesting decision for the brass in the warehouse. What do you think the Orioles should do when Manny returns?
With the night game on Sunday night, all statistics are through Saturday's game.