Orioles notes and observations: Schoop, Strop, leadership, Huff

SARASOTA, Fla. — The Orioles have a night game tonight in Bradenton against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Wei-Yin Chen gets the start and will be followed by Brian Matusz, Tommy Hunter and Daniel Schlereth. Chen pitched two scoreless innings in his Grapefruit League debut versus the Tampa Bay Rays on March 2.

Orioles center fielder Adam Jones will also be in action tonight as Team USA kicks off its World Baseball Classic competition against Mexico in Arizona. The game is at 9 p.m. EST. Should be a good pitching matchup -- at least until the starters leave in the third inning -- with Toronto's R.A. Dickey pitching for the U.S. and Milwaukee's Yovani Gallardo pitching for Mexico.

As for the WBC, Orioles fans can puff their chests a little today after two Orioles did very well in their respective WBC games.

Infield prospect Jonathan Schoop had three hits, including a key three-run homer, in The Netherlands' 6-2 victory over Cuba. Reliever Pedro Strop threw 1 2/3 perfect innings in the Dominican Republic's 9-3 win over rival Venezuela.

Schoop, the 21-year-old infielder from Curacao whom Baseball America lists as the third-best prospect in the Orioles' organization (behind only Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman), fell a triple short of the cycle and had four RBIs against a heralded Cuban team.

I'm real curious to see how Schoop develops this year. Scouts from rival organizations are torn on Schoop, who is likely ticketed to start this year at Double-A Bowie.

Some scouts love his quick hands and raw power and think he can hit 20-plus homers and play a strong big league third base or second base for years to come.

Others believe he strikes out way too much, has little plate discipline and might have to be moved to a corner outfield spot, where his potential power wouldn't be as much of an asset as, say, at second base.

I do know this: The Orioles love Schoop, his attitude and his potential. And he could fill a major void for the Orioles: a homegrown international signing that makes a difference in the majors.

Also, it's good to see Pedro Strop start well this year.

He grew tired at the end of last season, primarily because he had never pitched so many innings. When he is on, though, the guy has an electric arm and he is a delight to be around.

Some fans may be worried about how he'll do this year, but I'm not concerned. Remember, the converted shortstop hasn't been a pitcher for very long -- he is figuring it out in the majors.

Strop is one of the more dynamic personalities in the Orioles' clubhouse and also one of its hardest workers. So it wasn't surprising to see young Venezuelan lefty Eduardo Rodriguez have his locker set up this spring between Strop and Miguel Gonzalez.

That, of course, was by manager Buck Showalter's design.Rodriguez, who was sent to minor league camp Thursday, is considered part of the next wave of young hurlers in the organization.

And Showalter wanted Rodriguez to pay very close attention to Strop and Gonzalez, guys who have fought through adversity to have some success in the majors. It doesn't hurt that those two are multilingual (Rodriguez is still learning English) and exceptionally approachable.

The locker positioning says plenty about Showalter, who is known for studying the details, and about Strop and Gonzalez, who in one year have elevated their status within the clubhouse.

And, transitioning into leadership, it didn't surprise me at all that when I asked pitching prospect Mike Wright which players made an impact on him during his first big league camp, he immediately singled out Jim Johnson and Mark Hendrickson.

Johnson is the undeniable leader of the pitching staff. He's not exactly touchy-feely and didn't become a leader by doing anything showy. He's just a no-nonsense straight-shooter who wants the team to be as good as it can be.

Hendrickson is attempting to reinvent himself as a sidearmer in this camp and is a long shot to make the team. But that doesn't stop him from being the voice of reason for any young player with a question. The guy is a pitching coach waiting to happen.

One last note: 36-year-old Aubrey Huff did not get a spring training invite anywhere and has told The San Francisco Chronicle that he is "pretty much retiring." Huff, who won two World Series titles with the San Francisco Giants, played 13 seasons in the majors, including three with the Orioles.

He had sort of a love-hate relationship with Orioles fans, but he was a blast to cover. He was both self-deprecating and a chop-buster.

Two of my favorite Huff stories: Early in 2009, when he was presented with the Silver Slugger Award for his great (and Orioles MVO year) season at DH in 2008, he held the award high over his head and proclaimed loudly, "Last year, the Silver Slugger; this year, the Gold Glove."

I'll also never forget his constant teasing/jawing with Kevin Millar, who once told Huff he was a useless human being except for the 5 minutes every night that he was in a batter's box.

One time Millar was in the Orioles' dugout before the game, railing to me about some subject when Huff walked by. He said, "Millar, I can't wait until you are a TV analyst."

Before Millar had a chance to thank his buddy for the rare compliment, Huff continued: "Cuz then I can pick up the [bleeping] remote and mute you."