The Baltimore Orioles have been making contingency plans at second base for a few years running. Veteran Brian Roberts, once one of the elite players in all the sport, has been unable to stay healthy over the past three-plus seasons and this past weekend, found himself being carried off the field after rupturing a tendon behind his right knee.
Coming into the season, all looked well for the 13-year veteran and he got off to a very good start in the season’s opening week. A healthy campaign may have not only re-built his value on the market, but may have persuaded the Orioles to re-up with their longest-tenured player. This latest ailment will cost him 3-4 weeks on the shelf, but if history is any indicator, this is merely the beginning of Roberts’ annual lost season. Roberts hasn’t played in more than 59 games in any season since 2009.
Roberts will be 36 in October, just as his four-year, $40 million deal with Baltimore expires. At this point, given how little the O’s have gotten from him during the life of this contract, it would be difficult to imagine a reunion next year. Instead, the Orioles figure to turn the position over to another, hopefully more durable, player in 2014.
The immediate plans for O’s manager Buck Showalter will include the use of Alexi Casilla and Ryan Flahertyat second base. Looking to the future, however, neither man looks like a quality regular on a team that plans to contend. They’ll plug the gap for the next few weeks in hopes Roberts can come back healthy, but the former Rule 5 pick (Flaherty) and the guy who couldn’t hold down a job for a bad Minnesota team (Casilla) aren’t likely a part of the long-term solution.
That solution, the Orioles hope, is biding his time with Triple-A Norfolk this year. Jonathan Schoop is Baltimore’s fourth-best prospect, according to MLB.com, and though he struggled last season in Double-A, Schoop made a name for himself among those fans who don’t closely follow the prospect beat by turning in some memorable moments whilst playing for the Netherlands during the World Baseball Classic last month.
Schoop had crept onto a few of the various Top-100 Prospect lists (including our own) after a stellar season as a 19-year-old in A-ball in 2011, but managed just a meager .245/.324/.386 line during his time with Double-A Bowie last year. That campaign dropped him off the lists, but didn’t prevent Baltimore from continuing to push him forward by assigning Schoop to Norfolk this season.
Though he’s played the majority of his professional games as a shortstop, Schoop has better than 150 career games at second base as well, most of which came while playing next to Manny Machado. Baltimore’s big league shortstop, J.J. Hardy, is under contract through the 2014 season. In the event Machado is the long-term third baseman, which I think he ultimately will be, Schoop becomes an option should Hardy be moved or even at the end of his contract. I think it would be awfully difficult to slide Machado back to short after not having played the position at all in what will have been two full seasons by that point (assuming Hardy stays through the end of his deal).
In the meantime, however, Schoop has an opportunity to re-assert himself as one of Baltimore’s top Minor League talents by putting up a good season against advanced competition as a sill very young ballplayer. Defensively, Schoop has good range in the field, both at short and second, but his arm strength is probably ultimately better suited for second base. Because he’s so young, Schoop is expected to fill out his 6’2″ frame a bit more, but currently features a slashing line-drive swing that can produce occasional pop, as he showed during the WBC.
As evidenced by the promotions of Machado and Dylan Bundy last season, the Orioles aren’t afraid to bring young talent to the major leagues, so there is no reason to think that Schoop doesn’t have a legitimate shot at regular playing time in Baltimore as early as next year.
Another rough season at the plate doesn’t necessarily spell the end of Schoop’s days on the prospect radar, but it may cause the O’s to re-consider letting Roberts walk away, or at least cause them to look for a different option to play second base next year. Clearly, the Oriole brass still thinks highly of the Curacao native and they are hopeful he can meet the challenges of Triple-A.