The Orioles added infielder Jonathan Schoop and left-handed pitcher Mike Belfiore to their 40-man roster yesterday. It will mean, for one, that each player will report to spring training when the big leaguers do. It also could be a big step for both as they look to get to the majors with the Orioles.
The man who saw the pair play every day this year was Double-A Bowie manager Gary Kendall. Schoop, ranked by Baseball America as the club’s No. 3 prospect, spent all season with the Baysox, and Belfiore did as well after he was acquired from Arizona in the Josh Bell trade on May 11.
Belfiore, who turned 24 on Oct. 3, went 5-1 with a 2.85 ERA over 47 1/3 innings with Bowie. He walked 21 and fanned 50.
“I would like to have seen a little bit more command out of him, but I liked his arm strength, his polish and his delivery,” Kendall said. “We used him in different roles this year. At the beginning of the year, we used him on certain days and gave him two, three innings at a time regardless of score and it was kind of programmed. As the season went on, they allowed us to use him in some different situations.
“He’s got a good fastball and pretty good arm. He can get you out with his fastball or breaking ball and he has a really good feel for his changeup. He can use any pitch in any count. He’s got some durability to his body and could fill a lot of different roles for the club. He usually pitched around 90, 91 (mph). His range was 88 to 92 (with his velocity). I was impressed with him.”
Belfiore allowed an average against of just .160 vs. Eastern League left-handed batters while right-handed batters hit .269 off him.
“I think he can get righties out as well as lefties,” Kendall said. “He just needs to locate better and he made some mistakes ahead in counts. But as he improves, he’ll be better against right-handers, because his arm is so good. I think he could be more than a situational guy.
“He’s a relentless worker and I thought he had a really good year. He has a real clean arm action, there is not a lot of baggage in that delivery and he’s going to be able to repeat stuff.”
As for Schoop, a picture emerges of a player who has earned the right to be called a top prospect but one that still has improvements to make at 21. At this point, his defense seems ahead of his offense.
Kendall, open and honest as always in assessing a player, said Schoop faced some timing issues at bat this year.
“All year, our coaches were working with Jonathan on his stride and getting his foot down ready to hit,” Kendall said. “Sometimes he was rushing mechanically to get his bat through the zone when the pitch comes. Even in instructional league, his timing was a little off. Sometimes that causes too many swings and misses. Whatever level he is at next year, that is something that needs to be addressed. He needs to put the ball in play more. You need to get that foot down early enough to have time to be prepared to hit.
“What happens is he can have a tendency to overstride. If you start to stride, you start to come forward and drift forward with your body and that puts you in a out of kilter position. If you push forward, it commits your hands forward and it gets harder to chase, 92, 93 mile per hour fastballs. You commit early to your front sid.”
Schoop hit .245 with Bowie along with 14 homers, 56 RBIs and an OPS of .710. He batted .308 with an .899 OPS versus lefties and .218/.628 against right-handed pitching.
“In instructional league, they continued to work with Jonathan on getting his foot down, staying quiet, and having a relaxed head and body,” Kendall said. “There is no question that when Jonathan’s timing is right, he drives the ball as well as anyone in our minor leagues. He’s got serious pop, the ball comes off his bat. But it’s about putting it in play more. He doesn’t get a fastball down the middle blown by him, but sometimes he chases that fastball out of the zone. I think this will be a big year for him in terms of strike zone knowledge wherever he plays.”
Dealing with knee soreness in spring that lingered into the season at times, Schoop was rested more early in the year than later. He played second base with Manny Machado at short in Bowie, then took over at short in August when Machado was called to the big leagues.
“This guys turns a double play as good as anyone I’ve seen,” Kendall said. “He’s got a quick transfer and has plenty on the ball. Going left and right, he needs some work a little bit and he needs more lower body strength and flexibility. I think he has enough arm to play anywhere in the infield to help the Orioles. He catches the ball and executes. His hands are soft and quick. He doesn’t have any fears defensively and he’s really got a good baseball aptitude.
“The greatest praise I can have for him is the guy shows up every day with a smile on his face and wants to work hard. Every day. I think he had a pretty solid year.”
My take on Schoop: I think the time has come for fans to stop wondering if Schoop will compete for the starting second base job with the Orioles come April. It’s just too soon for that. It may be that he should go back to Double-A to start 2013. At 21, there would be nothing at all wrong with that.
Kendall made it clear to me how much he liked Schoop this year but at the same time this was not the first time Schoop’s issues at bat have been mentioned. There is work to do here. The Orioles were aggressive to promote this young man to Double-A at 20 and they batted him second in the order, to boot.
Schoop remains among the top 100 prospects in the game, it’s just that we all need to realize because Machado made the leap to Baltimore at so young an age doesn’t mean every kid can do it.