For the first time since 2011, just one Oriole will feature in the All-Star Game. While Jonathan Schoop won’t get the start, he should make his Midsummer Classic debut at some point on Tuesday night. But he is one of four second basemen on the American League roster, the most at any one position on either squad. Could we see him move away from his natural position tonight, providing a glimpse into his future in Baltimore?
If that happens in tonight’s game, it would likely be a shift over to shortstop. That’s the spot he played throughout the minors and he even made his first major league start at the position earlier this week. But his big league future may lie away from the infield altogether.
All credit where its due. The thought had not even crossed my mind until I saw the following tweet from fellow Orioles blog, Camden Depot:
I sure do not think Schoop is a long term solution at SS. I see him in RF sooner than later.— Camden Depot (@CamdenDepot) July 9, 2017
Huh, ya know what? That actually makes perfect sense.
Of course, most people would agree that Schoop is not an everyday major league shortstop. While he has plenty of arm to make every throw he would need to, he lacks a certain agility and range that you would expect from players at that position
But moving him away from the infield completely? Especially that second base spot that he has made his own since getting called up from the minors, for good, during the 2014 season? It could be tough to change people’s minds on that one. But if we are all honest with ourselves for a moment, Schoop could be a perfect corner outfielder.
Schoop’s ability with the leather has been a point of the contention over the last two or three seasons. Is he good or not? During his rookie campaign (2014), Fangraphs gave him a Defensive rating (DEF) of 7.2, where 0.0 is average. This season, he has a -3.7 DEF through the All-Star Break and he has made 10 errors, the most on the Orioles and tied for the most in baseball by a second baseman.
As we dive deeper into those numbers, Fangraphs tells us that Schoop has been below average this season in just above every way possible while playing in the field. He has negative ratings for double play runs (-1.0), range runs (-2.3), error runs (-1.6) and ultimate zone rating (-4.9). Overall, it has cost the O’s eight runs (-8 DRS). With how bad the team’s pitching has been, they can’t afford to give up “extra” runs.
While Schoop is still only 25 years old, it’s unlikely that things like speed, agility and range improve with age. If anything, they will at least slightly decline. If he struggles with those aspects now, it could be smart to move him to a position that relies less on those qualities.
On the positive side of things, Schoop has a tremendous arm, especially for a second baseman. Many within the Orioles organization feel that he has a stronger throwing arm than Manny Machado. For his position, that’s likely surplus to requirements. But imagine it out in right field?
Power to spare
Traditionally, corner outfielders and second basemen have very different offensive profiles. Former Oriole Brian Roberts embodied a stereotypical second baseman; a table-setting contact hitter with good speed. Schoop, if anything, more closely resembles a power-hitting corner outfielder that produces runs.
Schoop’s 18 home runs are tied with Machado for the team lead on the Orioles and is the most by a second baseman in all of the baseball. Similarly, his 54 RBI are the most on his team and third in all of baseball among players at his position. And that is while spending most of the season, so far, batting sixth, seventh or eighth in the Baltimore order; not the traditional run-producing spots.
Few options in the pipeline
The Orioles minor league system is thin. You know this. We all know this. As it stands, the organization really only has one player that profiles as a major league right fielder, and that would be 22-year-old Austin Hays. The strong-armed, third-round pick from last summer’s draft has had a fantastic season across Frederick (A+) and Bowie (AA) that has seen him hit .328 with 19 home runs and 55 RBI.
Meanwhile, Ryan Mountcastle could be the hard-hitting second baseman to take over for Schoop in another season or two. He’s a solid enough fielder but a below-average arm stops him from staying on the left side of the infield.
That said, both of these young men began the season in single-A, which is a long way from Baltimore. The team needs to assess what they have at the major league level and go from there. As he plays more, Schoop shows that he may, in fact, be a below average fielder at second base.
The organization has failed for three seasons in a row to find a suitable replacement for Nick Markakis in right field. In Schoop, they have a major league-ready option. Then, they could turn their focus to second base, which may prove to be an easier spot to fill.