Heath Bintliff: O’s have more than one great shortstop prospect at Delmarva

Over the weekend, I drove up to Asheville to watch the Delmarva Shorebirds, (ow Single-A affiliate of the Orioles, take on the Asheville Tourists in a matchup of two of the better teams in the South Atlantic League.

My original intent was to see the Orioles’ 2010 first-round pick and wunderkind shortstop Manny Machado play. But a knee injury last week meant that the only Machado action I saw was him crutching his way from the Shorebirds’ dugout to the clubhouse.

As consolation, I was watching baseball at McCormick Field, a beautiful little ballpark that has been in use since 1924 and was used as a location in the 1988 movie Bull Durham (it was where Crash Davis hit his dinger and hung ‘em up).

And I got to see a great teen-aged shortstop prospect anyway. His name is Jonathan Schoop.

Schoop (pronounced “scope”) is a 19-year old native of Curacao and, if not for Machado, he’d be the Oriole shortstop prospect everybody was getting excited about.

On the young season, Schoop is hitting .320/.368/.508 with four home runs. Schoop has an amazing 13 extra-base hits over just 28 games. His 62 total bases lead the Shorebirds (he has played in three more games than Machado) and he also leads the team in runs scored.

On top of all this, he is a legitmate fielder at short. He was rangy, had soft hands and an absolute cannon for an arm. But he was not all about physical skills; he was smart and a heads-up player, too. During one of the games, a Tourist batter laced a line drive to right field that looked to be a sure double. Shorebirds right fielder Brendan Webb fired to ball toward cutoff man Mychal Givens. Schoop yelled to Givens to let the ball go. Givens did, the ball one-hopped to second, Schoop scooped it out of the dirt and swept the tag on the Tourist runner for the out.

And remember how Cal Ripken Jr. would run way out in to the outfield on a ball hit to the gap so the outfielder could hit him with the relay and Cal could in turn cut down a runner at the plate? Schoop does that, too.

Now for the bad news. Remember that cannon of an arm Schoop has? Well, he doesn’t always know exactly where the ball’s going to go when he throws it. I saw him make a bad throw on Sunday (it wasn’t marked as an error, but it probably should have been) and many of his throws were erratic, pulling first baseman Mike Flacco off the bag or forcing him to scoop bouncing balls in the dirt. Schoop has a whopping 11 errors on the season and I would bet that about half of those are throwing errors.

So Schoop has to work on his throwing. With Machado in the system, Schoop’s future probably lies at third base and he’ll have to get more accurate if he is to stick over there. But there’s lots of time for that. And if he can’t straighten himself out, he’ll make a heck of a second baseman anyway.

Schoop won’t turn 20 until October and with the way he’s playing, I wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up in Single-A Frederick around midseason.

No, he’s not the spectacular talent that Machado is. Few are. But I’m still pretty excited that Schoop is in the Oriole system.

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