The scoop on Schoop: He might be the best player in O's minors

Jonathan Schoop had surfaced on the radar by the end of last season when he was named the Orioles' 10th best prospect by Baseball America.

At the end of this season, the 19-year-old Schoop is going to be ranked even higher than that and has to be considered a leading candidate - maybe the top candidate - to be named the Orioles' minor league Player of the Year later this month.

Schoop has quickly made a name for himself as a talented and hard-working player that has a great attitude and constantly strives to get better.

A shortstop last year, he moved to second base this season and came to form a dynamic double-play tandem with Manny Machado at both Single-A Delmarva and Single-A Frederick.

In the season's first 51 games with the Shorebirds, Schoop hit .316 with an OPS of .890. He then moved to Frederick, where he hit .321 in the last 33 regular-season games.

Between the two clubs this year, in 128 games Schoop has hit .290 with 24 doubles, five triples, 13 homers and 71 RBIs. He has posted an on-base average of .349, a slugging percentage of .432 and OPS of .781.

Maybe the most exciting news for Orioles fans is that he is an international product, putting up numbers for an organization that has mostly been lacking in high-end international players.

Schoop, who will turn 20 on Oct. 16, is from Willemstad, Curacao, and signed with the Orioles in August 2008.

"I'm excited for this season. I'm happy for myself and the work I've put in. I've improved my hitting and fielding this year, really everything has improved some for me," Schoop said before a playoff game at Frederick's Harry Grove Stadium.
"I am getting more strikes to hit and have improved my approach at the plate," he said.

Schoop and Machado have formed one of the best young double play combinations in all of minor league baseball this year.

"It's all about fun, me and Manny," Schoop said with a big smile. "We play the game the right way. We play hard, but in the end we have some fun, too."

In early August, Schoop was hitting just .229 with the Keys. But then he got red hot, to finish the regular season at .271.

"Earlier here I was hitting well, but the balls were not falling for me. In August, those balls started falling," he said. "When you are going bad in this sport you have to stay strong. That's been a key for me. When you go 0-for-4, don't get down. Tomorrow is a different day."

It is that attitude that has impressed the Frederick coaching staff. Manager Orlando Gomez said Schoop has been great to work with and has also been stellar on defense at second base.

While Schoop is not a fast runner, Gomez said, he seems to have some real lateral quickness at second, which helps his range, and he is very quick turning the double play.

Schoop said he grew up in Curacao watching his countryman, Andruw Jones, play. In 2004, Schoop played on a team from Curacao that won the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

"Every day, I try to take my game forward. Things don't go your way every day, but you can help your team everyday. Even if you don't get a hit, you can run the bases well or make a good play on defense to help your pitcher. I want to improve every day," he said.

If you interviewed Schoop late last year and then again this year, as I did, you can see a player maturing in front of your eyes. He has become very engaging in interviews and just seems to be having so much fun playing the game.

Tonight, Schoop and the Keys continue the Carolina League championship series in Frederick with Game 2 ,against Kinston. The Indians won the series opener 3-1 last night.

As for the Minor League Player of the Year award, Schoop said he had not given that much consideration.

"I haven't really thought about it, but if I get it, I will be happy and excited. My family will be happy because I play for me and for them," he said.

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