One of the most interesting Orioles’ developments over the past few years has been the growth of second baseman Jonathan Schoop. He’s a big, strong kid who has a ton of power; we’ve all seen that.
And, after hitting 16 homers in 455 at-bats in 2014 and 15 in 305 at-bats last year, pretty much everyone in the Orioles clubhouse expects Schoop to hit 25 or so home runs in 2016.
He expects it too, telling me recently that he has felt so much more at ease in all parts of his game this year. Assuming he can stay healthy all season, an offensive breakout is within reach.
What has impressed me most, however, has been his development at second base. Scouts have told me for years that the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Schoop is going to grow his way off the position, potentially having to switch to third base. But Schoop’s footwork has improved dramatically. And that cannon of an arm is something special.
He’s also an instinctive player, just raw. But Schoop gets the game. That was evident in the bottom of the fifth inning Thursday when he had the presence of mind to throw to third base instead of pointlessly throwing to first on what was a definite infield single by speedy Delino DeShields.
Schoop noticed that Elvis Andrus had wandered too far off third, and he uncorked a laser to Manny Machado for the tag and the third out of the inning. At the time, the Orioles were clinging to a 2-1 lead – they ultimately lost 6-3 – and so it was a key moment in the game.
He was involved in another key moment in the top of the fifth inning, one that didn’t go as well. After singling to lead off the inning, Schoop was on first when Nolan Reimold hit a soaring fly to left field. Ian Desmond nearly tracked it down, but couldn’t quite catch it.
Schoop should have scored easily, but he hesitated around second for fear that the ball was going to be caught. No matter how strong Desmond’s arm is, and he is a converted shortstop, there’s no way he could have gotten a throw to first quickly enough to double up Schoop given where the ball was hit — even if Schoop had been halfway around second at the time of the potential catch.
Schoop’s hesitation meant he had to stay at third, and the Orioles, despite having runners on second and third and no outs, failed to score any runs in the inning.
It was a reminder that Schoop is just 24 years old and is still learning. It’s something that is easy to forget when you see him in the field or at the plate.
Chris Tillman’s line from Thursday in Arlington was ugly. He was charged with nine hits, one walk and six earned runs in 5 1/3 innings. By just looking at the stats, you can make the assumption that Tillman really struggled.
But actually he pitched pretty well until a few, well-placed hits in the sixth inning unraveled his start. Consider that five of the nine hits he allowed came in the sixth, and two were real cheapies, a bloop and a broken-bat single. And the final run was charged to Tillman after he left the game.
Not making excuses here. Top pitchers find a way to limit the damage, even when faced with unfortunate luck. And Tillman couldn’t quite make the pitch to get him out of the sixth.
Despite the 5.11 ERA he currently has through three starts, though, I still fully believe Tillman will be far better this year than the 4.99 ERA he put up last season.
Mark Trumbo continues to impress, homering again Thursday. This time he crushed a Cole Hamels changeup the other way to give the Orioles a one-run lead.
The mark of a true power hitter is being able to muscle pitches over the fence in any part of the park. Chris Davis does it consistently when he’s in a groove. Machado, Schoop, Jones and Wieters can do it fairly routinely as well. Adding Trumbo into the mix just makes the Orioles’ powerful lineup that much stronger.
These Texas Rangers are good, real good.
Everyone’s in love with the Houston Astros in the AL West, myself included. I have the Astros winning it all. But I also have the Rangers making the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
Their mix of veterans and budding superstars is worth watching offensively and defensively – as you could see Thursday. If right-hander Yu Darvish, who is recovering from 2015 Tommy John surgery, can return to past form when he re-joins the club in May, and lefty Derek Holland stays healthy, the Rangers’ rotation would be formidable enough to make a long run in the playoffs.