Scoping out Schoop's chances at second base

The Orioles are off today, the only open date on their September schedule. They arrived in Boston last night after taking two of three games from the Blue Jays.

Outfielder Henry Urrutia comes off the restricted list, which requires a corresponding 40-man roster move. The Orioles could remove Dan Johnson, who took Urrutia's spot in Toronto.

Darren O'Day may do some throwing today in Sarasota. The Orioles' bullpen covered the last 3 2/3 innings yesterday, shutting out the Jays, but it had to escape jams at every turn. O'Day's loss leaves a gaping hole.

When the Orioles recalled infielder Jonathan Schoop from Triple-A Norfolk, they hung a jersey in his locker with No. 6 on it.

That's a major league number. That's a number reserved for a player who figures to stick around for a while.

That's also Melvin Mora's old number, which served as a convenient reminder of how many kids were going to be seated around the dinner table.

Schoop is waiting to make his major league debut. He was added to the expanded roster on Sept. 3, along with Urrutia, pitcher Josh Stinson and infielder Ryan Flaherty. So far, he's stayed on the bench.

(The term "recalled" is used for players on the 40-man roster. It doesn't mean they're actually being called back to the majors. The non-roster guys have their contracts selected.)

Among the many decisions facing the Orioles this winter is whether to open up the competition at second base, which would include Schoop. Brian Roberts' contract expires after the season.

"He's got a lot of tools," said Norfolk manager Ron Johnson. "He's a skills player. He's got big-time life in the bat. When he hits a ball, it stays hit. When he hits the ball, it's like a big leaguer hits it. When he hits a home run, you don't look up and go, 'Oh, it's going to make it.' No, this kid can put a charge into a baseball.

"He's got lightning hands at second base. I mean, he can turn a double play right now with anybody. If he gets the ball in his glove, the double play is turned. He's a big kid. We started him out, played him a little bit at shortstop and got him back over to where I think he's more comfortable, at second base. I think that's the slot that he could do well and play well in the future, at second base in the big leagues. I think he could help. He's a big leaguer."

So, he's ready to compete for the job?

"Sure, I don't see why not," Johnson said. "A lot of guys come to spring training and compete. I think that's what his goal will be. I wish he would have had a full season down there. I think it would have been very advantageous for him in his development, but you know what? This is a very good learning thing for him right now, even though he's not getting the playing time. This is a really valuable time for him to get acclimated to the big leagues, the game and how it is and here being around these guys. I know he's soaking it all in, because that's the kind of kid he is."

Schoop didn't have a full season because of a fracture in his lower back that limited him to 81 games. He batted .256/.301/.376 with 11 doubles, nine homers and 34 RBIs in 70 games with the Tides. Factor in his starts in the Gulf Coast League and New York-Penn League, and he batted a combined .278/.330/.460 with 14 doubles, 14 homers and 52 RBIs this season.

"He came back and was fine after that," Johnson said. "It was tough that he missed that time, because he was really starting to get it at the plate. As it is with any young player who's pushed up to that level, especially at 21 years old, it's going to be a learning process, and he was really starting to swing the bat.

"We were up in Syracuse, it was a cold day, and he hit a home run that day. He might have had three hits. And he came in the next day, and the trainer, Mark Shires said, 'He's got something going on with his back.' It turned out to be a little bit more than we had anticipated, but he came back, he finished up really well.

"He's fun to be around. And the thing about Jonathan Schoop that impresses me as much as his ability as a player is the type of person he is. If you get a chance to know this guy, treat yourself. He is a fun kid to be around. He's got a smile on his face every day at the ballpark, he loves to play the game. You can talk to him, kid with him during the game. He's got some composure beyond his age, which I think will help him as he gets to wherever he's going to be in the next couple years.

"I can't say enough good things about this guy. I drank the Kool-Aid about Jonathan Schoop after about halfway through the season, so I'm a big fan."

Yes, Johnson broke out a Kool-Aid reference. I'll give him a pass today.

Schoop is getting used to playing with the big boys, having left spring training to represent the Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic. Though he batted only. 214, he hit two home runs, including a three-run shot in an upset of Cuba.

"He's got some experience at a higher level, around high-level players," Johnson said. "I was very impressed with his composure. He plays the game right. You watch players, especially when they're young, and you watch if they get disappointed or if they get devastated. If a player gets devastated, you've got some issues. You've got to think about, 'Is this guy at the right level.'

"Jonathan Schoop, he was disappointed early when he was struggling with the bat, but you could see there was a competitor in him. He didn't back down against the opportunity. He came back after he was hurt, jumped right in and played out the rest of the year. That's a very exciting bright spot in this organization going forward."

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