Jonathan Schoop: Bigger, better and chasing an opening day roster spot

SARASOTA, Fla. - The scoop on Jonathan Schoop is this: At the very least the kid is making a very favorable and strong impression at camp. And it just might lead to him making the Orioles’ opening day roster.

Schoop entered camp considered a long-shot to win the job as the O’s starting second baseman. But now, after coming to Sarasota a clearly bigger, stronger and better player than last year, he’s made a strong case to head north with the Orioles for the opener.

Schoop’s cause may be been helped by the fact that Manny Machado is now likely to not make it back in time for the opener. That could put Ryan Flaherty on third base and Schoop at second to start the year. Under that scenario, Schoop could potentially go back to Triple-A when Machado is activated. Of course, if he keeps hitting like he has been at camp, he might even have a chance to stick in the majors.

Schoop went 0-for-2 Saturday, but his seventh-inning sac fly providing the winning run in the O’s 2-1 victory over the Yankees.

“I just came here to get better as a player,” Schoop says modestly. “Improve my game and get better than I was last year.”

He’s now batting .423 (11-for-26) with four doubles, a homer, six runs and six RBIs. Schoop, who also hit two homers in the two intrasquad games, has an on base percentage of .448 and a .692 slugging percentage.

What’s been the key to his hot bat this spring?

“Comfort. I feel comfortable in the box and not trying to do too much. Just playing and having fun,” he said.

Schoop, who ranks as the No. 82 prospect in the sport by Baseball Prospectus and No. 86 by ESPN, has put up decent but far from great stats at Double-A and Triple-A the last two years. But it’s easy to forget that Schoop was among the youngest players in the Eastern League at age 20 in 2012 with Bowie and was just 21 last season when he was with Norfolk. He’ll play the entire 2014 season at age 22.

A back injury in May kind of derailed Schoop’s 2013 season just as his bat was beginning to take off with the Norfolk Tides. He went on to hit .256 with nine homers, 34 RBIs and a .697 OPS in 70 games with Norfolk. All along O’s brass has insisted they were fine with Schoop’s modest stats in the high minors and that he was progressing very well for a kid so young.

Watching him play this spring, they weren’t wrong about that. Schoop said he learned something during some struggles the last two years at Double-A and Triple-A.

“Everything happens for a reason,” Schoop said. “That needed to happen (some struggles) for me to know I had to work harder in the offseason to lift and get better.

“I was the youngest, but the numbers were not bad. And I learned a lot, being a young player in those leagues. I learned how to compete. In baseball you fail sometimes and I learn how to deal with those days.”

And Schoop was serious about getting bigger and stronger.

“I’m not too much bigger, but I got stronger,” he said. “I put on 10 to 15 pounds and got stronger. I wanted to do that in the offseason. There are a lot of games. To play the whole season I needed to be stronger.”

Will the added bulk help him more to drive the ball at-bat or with the endurance needed for the long season?

“I think both,” Schoop said. “The endurance for the season and, in the box, I feel strong. I feel, even if I go 0-for-4, I feel I have a chance. I feel real strong every day now. Should help my game.”

Manager Buck Showalter agrees with that. Schoop is bigger and he is better.

“I think it’s just more his legs are getting under him,” Showalter said yesterday. “First time I saw him he was like a fawn at birth, his legs wouldn’t support his body as much. A lot of it, he just grew so fast.

“I’ll tell you, just watching him move around the dugout, this guy, he is a man. He’s got everything working for him physically now.”

Schoop said the added weight has not slowed him at all and, with stronger legs, he says he’s moving as well in the field and on the bases as he ever has.

So the scoop on Schoop is that he may be ready for the major leagues now, a little sooner than a lot of people expected.

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