Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop may be the most underrated player in baseball. He plays a position that typically lacks serious star power. He’s not as good as teammate, and all-world talent, Manny Machado. And although he is a solid, sometimes outstanding, contributor all around, he lacks that one defining attribute that makes him stand out above the rest. But in order for Baltimore’s offense to buoy the team’s chance at a playoff run as is expected, Schoop will have to take on a larger role than ever before.
The Curacao native had a roller coaster 2016 season. His opening month had some worried as he slashed just .218/.256/.423 in April, but was then followed by a hot middle four months of the season that saw him hitting .294/.326/.487 with 17 home runs and 59 RBI from May through August, but then he finished with an ice cold September (.196/.222/.348).
His final statistical line of slashing .267/.298/.454 with 25 home runs and 82 RBI in 2016 was a mixed bag. For a guy who most often found himself in the bottom-third of the Orioles lineup, those are some solid power numbers. But after an injury-interrupted 2015 season that saw him hit .279/.306/.482 in just 86 games, there was an expectation that he would get even more out of his bat.
That said, last summer was only his second full major league season. He avoided any semblance of a “sophomore slump” while playing in every single game a year after suffering a scary-looking knee injury in April of 2015. And he enters 2017 as a 25-year-old with nearly 1400 MLB at-bats to his name. This is likely only the floor of what he is capable.
Of the players that are expected to regularly contribute to this season’s Orioles, Schoop remains one of the youngest. J.J. Hardy and Seth Smith are each 34 years old. Adam Jones and Mark Trumbo are both 31, with Chris Davis soon to join them in March. Caleb Joseph and Ryan Flaherty are 30, and Welington Castillo will be by the end of April. Of course you have the youngsters like Machado, Joey Rickard and Trey Mancini. Heck, we’ll even throw 29-year-old Hyun Soo Kim in there. But on the whole, the hitters on this club are getting up there.
Jones and Trumbo will likely be slotted into the middle of the Opening Day lineup, but how confident will fans be with that pair? Jones, while still an asset in many ways, has regressed each of the last five seasons. Trumbo was great at the plate a year ago, but expecting a repeat performance would be outlandish. Hardy is a glove-first option. And while Smith and Castillo are established big leaguers, they still must prove themselves in an Orioles uniform.
In addition, both Pedro Alvarez and Matt Wieters seem to be gone as well. The hits and runs will need to come from somewhere, and this feels like the season where Schoop will be called upon to go from young up-and-comer to veteran heavyweight.
Reasons for hope
There is evidence that he is starting to see major league pitching a bit clearer. Both his 3.2-percent walk rate and 21.2-percent strike out rate, while not great, were career-bests. Among qualified Orioles, Schoop had the lowest on-base percentage, which is saying a lot on a team that avoids walks like the plague. If there was one specific area of his game that needs more work, it’s this.
According to a Boston Globe article from January of 2015, Schoop is entering the “prime” of his baseball-playing life. Although in the past, the late-20s were thought of as a players best years, it looks like guys today end up peaking earlier, with 26 being the ideal age. The O’s second baseman is 25 and will turn 26 in mid-October. Just in time for a World Series run.
The experience he already carries with him at a still relatively young age could pay off, especially late in the season. September has routinely been his worst month at the plate. For his career, he hits just .211/.241/.389 in the season’s final month. But of course these are numbers from his rookie season, a year in which he hurt his knee and the first time that he played 162 games.
There are sure to be lessons learned and questions asked. There is room for improvement there. That, coupled with a day off here and there, should give Schoop a better finish to the 2017 campaign.
Steamer’s 2017 outlook is nothing special for the Birds second baseman. Their system believes Schoop will put together a .261/.297/.449 season with 23 home runs and 73 RBI. All of those numbers are worse than what he did a year ago. But on a positive note, they do feel that his discipline will continue to improve as his walk rate jumps to 3.8-percent and his strikeout rate drops to 20.8-percent.
That may actually be a good sign. Schoop has just about maxed out his power potential. It would be reasonable to expect him to jump up to maybe 30 round-trippers, but more than that could be pushing it. He had an impressive 38 doubles in 2015. It’s possible that a couple more of those fly out of the park.
If those strikeout and walk rates do improve the way Steamer expects, I see Schoop getting back into that .275 batting average, .305 on-base range. It’s not a major jump, but it could be enough to sway an additional game or two in the Orioles favor.
Want a formal prediction? If Schoop hits in the six spot (for the most part), ahead of Castillo, Hardy and whoever the non-Trumbo right fielder is, and avoids injury, I’m pegging him for a .272/.303/.475 season with 27 home runs and 85 RBI.