Good spring start for Schoop: Is the future here already?

If I had a nickel for every time a fan brought up Jonathan Schoop over the last few days, I’d at least have a nice collection of nickels and would be well on my way to a purchase of a cup of coffee.

But coins aside, the kid has some of you fans quite excited. Nothing wrong with that. Hey, if you can’t get excited during spring training, when can you?

So can Schoop win the second base job? According to Buck Showalter, he’s every bit the contender for that spot that Jemile Weeks and Ryan Flaherty are right now. Here is what Showalter told Roch Kubatko and other reporters Monday at camp:

“There’s nobody ahead of him or behind him right now. He’s very much in the mix, as he was the day he got here. In my mind, I can tell you for sure, there’s nothing in stone about where he’s going to start the year, down or up. In fact, we made sure he knows that.

“Weeks and Ryan, the good thing is all three of those guys have options. He’s certainly very much in the mix. We’re going to take the best 25.”

Was that just manager-speak or does Schoop really have an equal chance here? The fact that all three players have options works in his favor. No one will be lost to another organization here. I would think that if Schoop clearly outplays the other two that he could emerge the second base starter here before most have projected and predicted that could happen.

Schoop hit just .256 with nine homers, 34 RBIs and a .697 OPS last summer in his first season at the Triple-A level. But before he suffered a stress fracture in his lower back in May that led to his missing two months, he was starting to handle Triple-A pitching.

In his first 11 games last May, he was batting .348 with two homers, eight RBIs, a .500 slugging percentage and an .862 OPS. I believe he was on his way to a big year before the injury.

In December, Schoop was ranked as the O’s No. 5 prospect and top position player prospect by Baseball America. In authoring that list for BA, I talked to several scouts in and outside the O’s organization and this is the scouting report I filed based on those conversations:

* Schoop is a solid hitter that can use the whole field and is expected to grow into more power but he shows good bat speed with average plate discipline. His use-the-middle-of-the-field approach allows him to stay square a long time, but sometimes his timing becomes inconsistent. One scout felt he could hit .280 in the big leagues with 10-15 homer power. He needs work on hitting off-speed pitches.

On defense he has great hands with a plus arm. But he is a big body guy with below average speed. Despite that, his first step quickness is good as are his reactions to the ball off the bat. Like Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy, he doesn’t have good footspeed, yet does have defensive quickness. He has played second, short and third, but it appears he is best suited for second in the majors.

Since being named the O’s 2011 minor league Player of the Year when he and Manny Machado led Single-A Frederick to the Carolina League title, Schoop has posted modest numbers at Bowie and Norfolk. But he was among the youngest in both the Double-A Eastern League at age 20 in 2012 and the Triple-A International League at age 21 last summer. Maybe this is the summer his age begins to catch up to his league.

Complicating the O’s potential decision on Schoop come opening day is Machado’s knee injury. If Flaherty begins the year at third base, Schoop has one less player to compete with for time at second base. Could he begin the year at second and then get sent down when Machado is ready? That is one possible scenario. Heck, maybe he gets a chance there, gets off to a great start and never looks back. That would clearly be popular with many fans and the O’s won’t be unhappy at all seeing a young prospect ready to play before his projected time.

Schoop has come to camp a bigger and, it sure appears, better player. Some fans can remember that blast he hit for his first big league homer last September off Kyle Drabek.

Has his time come already?

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