With the 2016 season finished, there's no better time than the present to take stock of the Orioles' organizational depth at every position around the diamond. Over the next few weeks, we'll break down every position individually and separate the players all through the system into three categories: who was the man there this year, who else was in the picture, and who is working through the minors to join them. Today's edition is second base, where Jonathan Schoop enjoyed a breakout season and utility players fill out the minor league depth.
The man: Manning second base each and every day the Orioles played this season was Jonathan Schoop, one of three players in the majors to start all 162 games this season along with Houston's George Springer and Kansas City's Alcides Escobar.
And don't let the player you saw down the stretch who looked worn down by all the games fool you: Schoop took a pretty big step forward this season, and spent all but the final few weeks of the season raising the bar of what's expected of him.
At the plate, Schoop hit .267/.298/.454 with a career-high 25 home runs, while his 38 doubles were ninth-most in the American League. Entering the season, there was a sentiment around the team that you could look at the stats Schoop posted last season in a year cut in half by a knee injury—.279/.306/.482 with 15 home runs and 17 doubles—double the counting stats, and end up with what a full year from him could look like.
Until September, that was playing itself out almost perfectly. Schoop was hitting .280 with a .786 OPS—nearly identical to last year's full season — but he got into a funk that lasted almost the entire month.
My working theory all season was that Schoop was the harbinger of how the entire Orioles lineup was going. When players around him were putting together patient, smart at-bats, so was he, making the entire group thrive. When the batters before him were going up hacking and swinging from their heels, so was Schoop.
That doesn't take away from what was a breakout season in a lot of ways for him. Schoop is growing into a major threat offensively, and wows opposing coaches, scouts, and his own teammates with his defense. His range isn't consistent, but every once in a while he'll get to a ball in the hole behind second base that no one else will. He's also shown himself to be a strong tagger on stolen base attempts, and his transfers on double-play balls are second to none.
The alternatives: As far as others on the major league roster at second base this year, that list is a short one. Steve Pearce played two innings at second base, and Ryan Flaherty played one. Neither is much of a threat to Schoop's status as the go-to guy at that spot.
Pearce underwent surgery on a flexor tendon injury in September and is a free agent, while Flaherty is a utility player.
The future: With Schoop locked up for at least the next three seasons, it's not necessarily a tragedy that there's not a lot of talent jumping out at this position in the Orioles' system. Essentially every player who saw significant time at second base in the Orioles' system this year has a utility profile.
Two players in the high minors, infielders Corban Joseph and Garabez Rosa, headline that long list.
Joseph, brother of Orioles catcher Caleb Joseph, hit .315/.369/.422 over a season spent mostly at Norfolk, with 29 extra-base hits in 107 games. Rosa hit .293 with nine home runs and a .703 OPS over 130 games between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk, though the highlight of his season may have been breaking Caleb Joseph's record with 466 games for the Baysox.
Few others stand out at the position otherwise. Jeff Kemp, a Bowie native who played for the Baysox, battled injury in a disappointing first year at Double-A.
The skinny: Given all that, it's a good thing for the Orioles that someone like Schoop is around for the foreseeable future. He's entering the first of three years of salary arbitration that the club will have him under control for, and not many teams can boast a blossoming star at second base who is on an affordable salary like Schoop is.
In a lot of ways, Schoop is the quintessential modern Oriole — big power, solid defense,and a bit of swing-and-miss to him. He's overshadowed by third baseman Manny Machado and some of the team's veteran stars, but considering the alternatives both inside the organization and out, no one is complaining about what they have in Schoop.