I’m going to preface this by saying that Jonathan Schoop is a very good prospect and I believe that he will find his niche as a quality big leaguer and have a nice career. He can do a lot of things well on a baseball field and will help a team, likely the Baltimore Orioles, very soon, perhaps even this season.
But thanks to his place next to Manny Machado near the top of most Orioles farm system rankings the past few years, expectations for Schoop as a centerpiece of the team’s future may have him set up to let down a rejuvenated Charm City fan base.
Again, there are a lot of things Schoop can do well on a baseball field. He’s still playing shortstop, and doing so relatively well, especially now that he no longer has to give way to the development of Machado. He may outgrow the position, but his athleticism should allow him to play it, at least on a part-time/fill-in basis, in the major leagues. He’s currently splitting between short and second base, a position that will likely be his permanent destination in the majors, although he may never settle into one spot at baseball’s highest level. That’s a testament to his versatility more than anything else.
That versatility almost ensures a career in the majors for Schoop no matter how his bat develops. In fact, his ability to play three infield positions (and likely both corner outfield spots, when he’s inevitably asked to do it) would make him worthy of a spot on most major league rosters right now. But worthy of a roster spot seems like a long way down for Schoop, who has been a top-five prospect in the Orioles system for two years, a top-100 prospect per Baseball America before the 2012 season, and a starter on the Netherlands WBC team, for which he played very well.
Before this season, I made the case that this was a make-or-break year for Schoop at the plate. So far this year, Schoop is hitting .268/.331/.368 in Triple-A, which is remarkably similar to his .245/.324/.368 he hit in a full season of Double-A last year. It’s not the kind of impact offensive production the Orioles had hoped for when he hit .290/.349/.432 as a 19-year-old in 2011, but it’s also not terrible for someone who can productively play both middle infield positions.
But a closer look shows a simple problem for Schoop—he crushes lefties and is basically ineffective against righties.
For his career, Schoop has an .877 OPS against left-handed pitching, but just a .689 OPS against righties. Here are the breakdowns the past three seasons:
Split G PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
vs RHP as RHB 117 397 359 100 20 3 7 50 27 46 .279 .335 .409 .744
vs LHP as RHB 72 170 152 48 4 2 6 37 15 30 .316 .381 .487 .868
Split G PA AB H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
vs RHP as RHB 121 387 339 74 16 0 8 41 30 78 .218 .291 .336 .628
vs LHP as RHB 71 168 146 45 8 1 6 22 20 25 .308 .399 .500 .899
Split G PA AB 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
vs RHP as RHB 33 110 101 3 0 3 11 7 19 .257 .318 .376 .694
vs LHP as RHB 19 34 30 3 0 0 9 3 7 .300 .382 .400 .782
You should be able to see the trend.
The case for this being a make-or-break season for Schoop was based on his need to prove he can hit right-handed pitching to become more than just a utility man on the wrong side of a platoon. It’s obviously a small sample size this season, but when the small sample heads down the path of a previous trend, there’s more validity to it. For Schoop to prove he can be an every day player, it would take a dramatic change of course from his current trajectory.
That is not to say that his current trajectory is something to be ashamed of. A player who can play five positions on the field and not just hit, but dominate, left-handed pitching is a valuable commodity to have on a roster. It’s just not what the Orioles were hoping for or what their fan base has come to expect.
That’s one of the inherent problems with prospect rankings—they require context. Schoop is currently the best position prospect in the Orioles system, despite a ceiling that may very well be that of a utility player, mainly because the Orioles farm system is exceptionally void of impact hitters. Schoop could carve out a career the likes of anyone from Jeff Keppinger to Martin Prado, both of which could help the Orioles in different ways, but as the top hitter in their system, the expectations have been set higher than that.
Which is a shame, especially of those expectations in any way determine the Orioles handling of Schoop. He’s likely the player today that he’s going to be in the future, and doesn’t have too much development left in the minors. He’s also likely a better option at second base than the Ryan Flaherty/Alexi Casilla disaster they’re running out there right now—especially against lefties.
Schoop should be in Baltimore soon and can help this Orioles this season, but the expectations can’t be the same as they were for Machado just because Schoop is the best prospect left in the system. He’s going to fill an important role on the Orioles roster sooner rather than later, but it’s important to keep his abilities in context to avoid disappointment in the future.