Starting Schoop would be bold, and Orioles need to do it

It has already been a spring of bold moves by the Orioles front office, but Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter need to make one more before the club opens the regular season against the Boston Red Sox on March 31.

They need to throw economic caution to the wind and turn second base over to top minor league position prospect Jonathan Schoop.

What else does he have to do to prove that he deserves the chance to launch his career as an everyday major league player on Opening Day? How many more hits does he have to get? What about his .396 Grapefruit League batting average and 1.038 spring on-base plus slugging percentage doesn't scream "Play me!"?

The administrative answer is that there are other options at the moment and there is that pesky service time issue that often prompts teams to delay the promotion of a bright young player for several weeks to guarantee he'll stay under club control for the better part of seven seasons. That's what the Orioles did with Matt Wieters in 2009, and that's why he won't become a free agent until after next season, so it's not a small thing.

Duquette is all about getting the most of the organization's young talent, so it probably isn't hard to figure out which way he normally would lean on a decision like this.

Showalter generally is focused on the big picture, too, but some of his comments about Schoop over the past few weeks have made it sound like there might be an internal tug-of-war over where he opens the season.

It's not all that complicated. The Orioles are going to need somebody to play third base for a few weeks while Manny Machado continues to rehab his surgically repaired knee, so it's not like they would have to kick Ryan Flaherty to the curb. Flaherty and Schoop would both get a chance to establish themselves as everyday players in April and then the decision about whom to keep in the starting lineup when Machado returns likely will make itself.

If both play well, then Showalter has the luxury of having two very capable middle infielders who hit from opposite sides of the plate. It wouldn't make sense to platoon the two of them — Schoop plays if he stays — but there would still be playing time for Flaherty in a super-utility role, since he can also play first base.

This might be a more complex situation if Jemile Weeks had been able to follow up on a flashy exhibition debut three weeks ago, but he has struggled badly at the plate since then and has a minor league option remaining.

Non-roster veteran Alexi Casilla also is a candidate for the utility role, but his attempt to reclaim the job he held last year has been undermined by hamstring and knee problems. Veteran Alex Gonzalez has played the best and should end up on the roster.

The wild card in all this appears to be Rule 5 draftee Michael Almanzar, another candidate to open the season in place of Machado or fill out the bench if Duquette is committed to keeping him on the roster all season the way he did with Flaherty in 2012 and reliever T.J. McFarland last year.

That would make sense only if the Orioles are not sold on Schoop's readiness, or plan to hold him back to preserve his service time.

Almanzar has never played above Double-A and he hasn't exactly been lighting up the stat sheet this spring. He drove in his ninth run of the exhibition season with a single in Saturday's 3-3 tie with the Tampa Bay Rays, but he is batting just .200.

That wouldn't appear to be enough to make a case for trying to keep him on the 25-man roster all season, but Duquette undoubtedly would like to find a way to keep him in the organization.

There might be some logic there if this were 2009 and the Orioles were still rebuilding, but this is no time for half-measures. Duquette and his staff have put together a team capable of big things this year, so he shouldn't let himself get caught up in the small ones.

Maybe it isn't Schoop's time yet, but it's definitely time to find out.

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" on Friday mornings at 9 on WBAL (1090 AM) and at

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