Signed by the Baltimore Orioles out of Curacao at age 16 in summer 2008, infielder Jonathan Schoop (pronounced ‘Scope’) has flashed premium potential while establishing himself as Baltimore’s top hitting prospect during the past (his first in the United States) couple of seasons. The star of Curacao’s Little League World Series championship team in 2004, Schoop followed in his older brother Sharlon’s footsteps– now playing for the Giants’ International League affiliate–by playing shortstop as a pro in the United States. Following an unspectacular, but promising, professional debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2009, the Orioles promoted the teenage shortstop to the Gulf Coast League. Once stateside, Schoop has worked well with the organization’s coaching staff and has put his impressive tool set to good use.
After beginning his ’10 season with a .795 OPS through 17 games with the GCL Orioles, Schoop earned a promotion to the Bluefield O’s of the Appalachian League. As the club’s youngest regular, just eighteen-years-old at that point, Schoop led his team in slugging percentage (.459) and on-base-plus slugging (.831) while walking (12 BB) nearly as many times as he struck out (14 strikeouts). Though somewhat overshadowed by multi-million-dollar top draft pick Manny Machado’s debut, Schoop’s performance thrust himself into the Oriole’s future nonetheless.
Heading in to 2011, Schoop spent much of his offseason working on his swing mechanics and hitting with Delmarva Shorebirds manager Orlando Gomez and hitting coach Jose Hernandez. The extra work, combined with another year of growth and experience, paid big dividends. Schoop hit .316/.376/.514, scored 45 runs and drove in 34 through 51 games playing in the South Atlantic League with the Shorebirds, earning a spot on the World Team’s roster at the 2011 All-Star Futures Game. Though he would sputter a bit following his mid-summer promotion to the Carolina League’s Frederick Keys, Schoop would recover with a torrid August, hitting .336 with four homeruns, thirteen extra-base hits and 21 runs batted in.
With a strong arm, phenomenal athletic ability a brother playing the position in the Giants system already, Schoop’s shortstop bloodlines are apparent. A teammate of Texas Rangers top shortstop prospect Jurickson Profar while playing short and pitcher for the 2004 Little League World Series Champion Curacao, Schoop won a Senior League World Series Title barely two years later with Willemstad. Now with the Orioles, he joins a franchise known for it’s talent at the position. Beyond Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., the Orioles have boasted stars like Luis Aparicio and Mike Bordick manning short and they’re busy in the process of developing Manny Machado in to the position’s next star. Spending the majority of ’11 at second and third base due to Machado’s presence, Schoop’s future may lay somewhere else in the infield, but it certainly lays in the big leagues.
A five-tool player with premium potential on both sides of the ball, Schoop’s offensive profile separates him from most other middle-infield prospects. Impressing his coaches with his new, smoother swing coming in to 2011, Schoop put his phenomenal hand-eye coordination to work against far more experienced competition this season and saw inspiring results. His hands are lightning-quick and he does a nice job staying inside of harder velocity. He loads smoothly and hits down on the ball, keeping his shoulders level and generating backspin and line-drive contact consistently. He employs his trunk in his swing and he rotates his shoulders cleanly and smoothly around his center of gravity. After working with his hitting coaches on quieting his mechanics this past offseason, he’s cleaned up his swing– eliminating a few holes and helping him square-up same-side breaking-stuff sweeping away from him.
Schoop’s strong hands resemble those of a young Vladimir Guerrero or Moises Alou. Like both Guerrero and Alou, he passes on batting gloves in favor of feel. His powerful forearms and grip give him impressive bat-control to go with his fantastic hand-eye coordination, smooth swing and plus bat-speed. Armed with such immense hitting tools, Schoop covers the plate well and he barrels difficult pitches with relative ease. Though his athletic gifts can get him in to trouble, occasionally reverting to his bad habit of trying to pull any pitch within reach–much like a young Guerrero– he’s done a nice job of calming his approach at the plate. After honing his mechanics and instincts with Hernandez last winter, Schoop has developed more comfort using the entire field, and he’s willing drive tough offspeed and same-side breaking pitches to the opposite field when he needs to.
Particularly considering Schoop is a nineteen year-old infielder playing against older and more advanced competition, it’s impressive that he’s already been able to put his solid-average raw power to use in games. Added in to his mix of hitting and defensive tools, Schoop’s power potential sets him apart from the vast majority of young middle infielders. Bearing a strong resemblance to Robinson Cano when he was in his early twenties, Schoop is blessed with a youthful, lithe frame fortified with lean muscle. His build gives him at least as much room for muscle and future power as fellow top middle infield prospects Manny Machado and Jurickson Profar. Armed with tremendous hand, forearm and back strength, he uses his powerful upper-body in conjunction with his burly core and legs to produce plus bat-speed and boat loads of loud contact. His easy bat speed is hidden by his deceptively effortless swing, but it’s definitely there. He accelerates his hands to the ball with a sharp, direct path. The young righty can turn on premium heat, but more importantly, he can wait on offspeed pitches and drive them up-the-middle and to right field. A rare find among middle infielders, with more physical development and work on his mechanics and fundamentals, Schoop may one day belt 20 homeruns and collect 50 extra base hits as a big league shortstop.
Though Schoop isn’t a fast-twitch athlete, his body control, coordination and powerful legs give him solid-average speed out of the box and even a tick higher underway. He’s capable of homeplate-to-first-base times as fast as 4.25 seconds and he has the wheels to beat-out bunts and infield singles. He won’t ever be a base-stealing threat, particularly if he weighs his frame down with muscle, but he’s a fluid runner with polished instincts who’s able to leg-out extra-base hits and score plenty of runs.
Defensively, Schoop has all of the tools necessary to succeed as an everyday infielder in the big leagues. Most comfortable at shortstop, he’s been forced to spend significant time at third and second base due to the presence of big-money, top draft-pick Manny Machado. On either side of second base, he’s very solid at turning the double play, showing good footwork and body control around the bag. He’s more than nimble enough to avoid hard-sliding baserunners while making strong, accurate throws to first base. He has naturally soft hands and his actions have improved visibly during his first year playing in a full-season league. Similar to Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano, his sturdy trunk and smooth actions allow him to make acrobatic plays look easy. Despite bouncing around the infield this season, he improved his fielding percentage at short (from .935 to .975) by forty points over his career mark, while also showing that he could offer plus defense at second base– a position he hadn’t previously played professionally prior to 2011.
In addition to his slick glove and footwork, Schoop possesses a strong, accurate arm that easily rates plus on the 20-80 scouting scale. When playing short, Schoop’s arm allows him to make plays from deep in the hole and to also turn late-developing double-plays. At second, he makes tough plays that others at the position can’t, and he’s already able to make spin-throws against his body to throw out baserunners hustling to first. His smooth, short throwing mechanics are ideal for an infielder and his sturdy base affords him accuracy and carry. His arm gives him the flexibility to take his plus glove to third base if the Orioles choose. Regardless of his future defensive home though, Schoop’s arm strength, along with his glovework, should make him an asset.
For a young hitter, Schoop shows solid pitch recognition and his ability to make contact helps keep his strikeout rate manageable (13.4% this season) despite his facing more advanced pitching and his general lack his of experience playing professionally. However, his low-low 6.7% walk-rate in the Carolina League this season does portray a fairly accurate picture of his plate discipline at this point in his career. Though hitting in front of Manny Machado for most of the second half of the season does provide an excuse, Schoop’s youth is obvious in his lack of plate discipline. Because he’s a bad ball hitter, blessed with a knack for barreling pitches well off the plate, Schoop can be overly aggressive– especially when he’s behind in the count. He’s far too prone to lunging out over the plate and awkwardly trying to pull same-side breaking pitches off the black. He did a better job of using his batting eye to work the count in the final month of his 2011 campaign, but he needs to hone his approach if he wants to take his offensive tools to higher levels.
He’s a premium athlete, with a strong arm, soft hands and some foot-speed, but Schoop is still just nineteen and he’s a work-in-progress defensively. Though he took to second base rather quickly, he’s been rough at third. His body control and arm should allow him to succeed there, but his reaction time and lateral quickness still need more coaching as he’ll get caught in awkward positions when fielding hard groundballs down the line or toward the hole. He isn’t quite as smooth as Machado at short either, and though he profiles well up the middle defensively, his thicker frame is conducive to adding bulk and he will need to keep his body in check if he wants to avoid losing a step.
Schoop is developing in to the rarely-found five-tool shortstop prospect, offering plus tools in all facets of the game. A solid bet to be a Melvin Mora-type infielder, with the potential to be Baltimore’s own version of a young Edgar Renteria, Schoop could one day compete for a Gold Glove while posting a batting average near .300 and solid power numbers. He’s a relatively polished product for his age and he’s already showing the maturity and work ethic demanded of a modern big leaguer. Though Manny Machado’s presence in the Orioles’ future plans has forced him to spend time learning other defensive positions, he’s more than talented enough to develop in to a premium fielder at either second or third base if the Orioles choose to move him permanently.
After helping the Keys win the 2011 Carolina League Championship and the Mills Cup this past season, Schoop will likely begin his 2012 campaign back in Frederick. He’ll look to finish the season in the Eastern League, playing for the Bowie Baysox. Because he’s advanced for his age and because the Orioles are currently in a rebuilding stage, Schoop’s timetable to the big leagues could be accelerated a bit and he will look to compete for a twenty-five man roster spot as early as spring, 2014.