Back in August, I wrote a lengthy post evaluating Jonathan Schoop of the Baltimore Orioles and his potential to redefine the second base position. At the time, Schoop had played in only 39 games, but was showing real signs of maturity as a hitter. His strike zone was tighter, and he was hitting breaking balls and offspeed pitches with more authority than during his rookie season. Schoop completed this season with a .279/.306/.482 line with 15 home runs and 39 RBIs in only 321 plate appearances. In 2014, Schoop hit 16 homers and drove in 45 in 481 plate appearances. Despite an increased awareness of the strike zone — Schoop upped the percentage of pitches inside the strike zone he swung at from 68.3 to 81.7 compared to last year — Schoop still has plenty of room for improvement as he reached base only 13 times by something other than a hit (9 BB, 4 HBP).
And he did this.
The future looks incredibly bright for Schoop. Projecting his 86-game statistics out to a full season can be slightly difficult considering the fact that he did slump to a .255/.282/.453 line in September after slashing .321/.339/.477 in August. Being conservative, Schoop’s partial season statistics in 2015 project, at worst, to a 25-homer, 80-RBI season over 162 games with a batting average in the .265-.275 range.
Projecting a raw, 24-year-old’s numbers is difficult, especially when he still has an incredible amount of growth left. Witness Manny Machado spiking his walk rate from 5.6-percent to 9.8-precent in a single season and showing an ability to handle the role of leadoff hitter. Schoop could have that same type of “light bulb goes on” moment in 2016 after beginning to show signs of recognizing the strike zone in 2015. Schoop still swung at over 40-percent of pitches outside the strike zone, but showed a recognition of pitches in the zone. Plate discipline should come next.
Projections aside, how does Schoop’s powerful 2015 compare to the second full season of several other recent MLB All-Star second sackers? Useful tools like OPS+ and runs created per game (RC/G) make it a little easier to compare Schoop to players who did not miss time due to injury.
It’s clear that Schoop does not quite yet measure up to the truly elite (or formerly elite) second basemen in the league — Cano, Pedroia, Utley, and Kipnis (deserving of so much more recognition). Pedroia, Utley, and Kipnis also had the benefit of college baseball to hone their approach at the plate. Schoop’s second season, however, does put him in some very good company. Projected to 600 plate appearances, Schoop’s power numbers put him in the conversation with these greats. Only Utley would have had more home runs in his second full season. Schoop really only lags behind the truly elite in on-base ability, but that should come with time. If the worse thing Schoop turns into is Brandon Phillips, can the Orioles really be too upset about that?
After only a year-and-a-half in the league, Jonathan Schoop is well on his way to establishing himself as the type of slugging second baseman that is extremely rare in league history. It is not too early for the Orioles to consider locking him up to a contract extension. Machado wants one, and Schoop should get one too, at a much lower cost. The Orioles can save themselves a lot of money by extending Schoop before the light bulb goes on in a similar fashion to Machado this season. By the time Machado moves over to shortstop full time (hopefully next year), the Orioles could have the best power-hitting middle infield duo in the American League.