Jonathan Schoop isn’t off to a strong start in the Arizona Fall League. In his first eight games for the Surprise Saguaros, Schoop, who turned 22 on Oct. 16, is just 4-for-32.
That shouldn’t concern the Orioles nor does it trouble a scout who’s watched Schoop play many times.
“The Orioles are going to be solid for many years to come at second base,” he predicts.
Schoop was called up by the Orioles as soon as Norfolk’s season ended, and he watched for three weeks until the team was eliminated from playoff consideration. Then he played.
Even though he had the big league experience (five games in the last week of September), the Orioles wanted Schoop to go to the AFL. He played in only 81 minor league games because of a stress fracture in his back, and they felt he missed important time.
Schoop batted .256 in 70 games for Norfolk, and the other 11 were rehab games in the lower minors.
Manager Buck Showalter was pleased to have Schoop around. He didn’t get to see as much of him as he wanted during spring training. Schoop missed several weeks to play for The Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic.
While Showalter fretted about Pedro Strop’s absence to play for the Dominican Republic, he thought the competition would help Schoop. It did, but he was still eager to see how Schoop would do.
In his five games, Schoop was 4-for-14 with a long home run in his first game. The scout believes that Schoop has even more power potential than Manny Machado, with whom Schoop played in the minor leagues.
Like Machado, Schoop hasn’t gone to the opposite field much in the minor leagues. He’s a good fastball hitter.
“He’s got to be a little more conscious of the breaking ball,” the scout said.
One of the bigger questions of the offseason is if the Orioles will re-sign Brian Roberts. If Schoop is ready to play in the majors, Roberts could be a fill-in and occasional designated hitter. Even though Roberts adjusted well to being a secondary player in the second half of the season after years as a star, he might want to try and go elsewhere if Schoop is going to play regularly.
Schoop’s best position is still shortstop, many believe, but with J.J. Hardy there, he’ll have to play second. Hardy and Schoop seemed to work well together in the final week of the season.
As for his defense, the scout is a huge Schoop fan.
“He’s athletic enough to play there. He’s not where you want him to be. Right now, he’s playing on talent alone.”
Schoop is ready to play in the major leagues. The scout says Schoop is “a natural,” and has impressed him with his range at second base.
“He has the arm. There’s not a thing wrong with him fundamentally. He’s got great hands, they’re soft and smooth.”
Schoop has the potential to be a truly excellent big league hitter. His struggles in the AFL are irrelevant.
“It’s easier to play in the big leagues than the minor leagues because pitchers are around the plate,” the scout said.
As for other Orioles players in the AFL, Henry Urrutia is batting .409 in seven games. Frederick catcher Michael Ohlman has two home runs and four RBIs, and is 5-for-14 in five games.
Left-handed pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez has allowed four runs in 8 2/3 innings. He’s walked five and struck out eight. Tim Berry is 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA in seven innings. Branden Kline has struck out six in six innings, and Jason Gurka is 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA in 5 1/3 innings.
Surprise, which is managed by Bowie’s Gary Kendall, leads the AFL West with an 8-5 record. The Saguaros play at Salt River on Thursday afternoon. Regular season play ends on Nov. 14.