The Orioles lost some key pieces in the offseason and have some problems in the front office with Dan Duquette seemingly wanting out, but they still have a chance to compete in the AL East. Baltimore saw Nelson Cruz, Nick Markakis, Andrew Miller, Kelly Johnson, and Joe Saunders leave in free agency so Jonathan Schoop’s presence needs to be felt in the lineup for the O’s in 2015.
Second baseman Schoop debuted with Baltimore in 2013 only playing 15 games, but earned the starting job in 2014 playing 137 and receiving 481 plate appearances. He hit 16 home runs, that’s good, but only had a slash of .209/.244/.354 with a 65 wRC+. His defense isn’t a problem saving 10 runs and having a 5.8 UZR ultimately helping him stay above 0 fWAR (0.6).
One big problem is his patience. He walked only 2.7% of the time when 10% is around average. Among MLB second basemen with at least 300 plate appearances, Schoop had the highest O-Swing% (swings at pitches outside of the strike zone), according to FanGraphs. Overall he had the eighth highest swing percentage and the third worst contact percentage causing him to strikeout 25.4% of the time good for the third worst among second basemen.
In the minors he walked just over 7% of the time in over 1400 plate appearances and struck out 15% of the time. It is expected when entering the majors, those numbers would go the wrong way, but not this drastically. It is likely that his patience and pitch recognition will improve in the future to a realistic 5 BB% and 20 K%.
Schoop, 23, will be given every opportunity to figure it out, but, Ryan Flaherty is ready to play everyday. He had a 79 wRC+ in 312 PA and the same fWAR (0.6) while slashing .221/.288/.356 in 2014. Newly signed Everth Cabrera is looking to win that starting job as well after he posted a 65 wRC+, -0.2 fWAR in 391 PA for San Diego, but had a 4.6 combined fWAR the two seasons prior.
Steamer projects Schoop to hit for a slash of .238/.275/.410 with 19 home runs, 91 wRC+, and 1.7 fWAR. He’s projected to have a 3.4 BB% and 22.4 K% in 468 PA.
ZiPs projects Schoop to slash .238/.275/.410 with 19 home runs, 86 OPS+, and 1.4 zWAR. They project him to have a 3.4 BB% and 22.4 K%.
Schoop has talked about some of the aspects of the game he wants to improve and his manager Buck Showalter has his back.
Buck mentions Schoop as a guy to watch. “He’s got a chance to go to another level.” Also Manny and Pearce. #Orioles
— Brittany Ghiroli (@Britt_Ghiroli) January 31, 2015
Ghiroli interviewed Schoop in this MLB.com video about what he improved on during the offseason.
Schoop said he wants to add speed after he worked out in the offseason to become slimmer, according to Jon Meoli of the Baltimore Sun. Schoop said:
“I wanted to cut some weight to move better, get my range higher and try to get some speed on the bases, too, try and put pressure on their defense. A lot of things are the same [this year], because I’m going in there to work hard, to make sure they know I’m ready this year. I’m a better player than last year.”
It’s fine that Schoop wants to improve his base running and fielding, but hitting is the main problem. If he could be a league average hitter (100 wRC+/OPS+) he could be a 2-3 win player. He is still young and has power, but he swings at the slider out of the zone too often, but if pitchers are naive enough to throw him fastballs consistently he will crush them.
Here’s a video of Schoop hitting a home run off a Mat Latos fastball: