Re-upped with Tigers, Schoop ready to play 'wherever they need me'
Lakeland, Fla. — Tigers manager AJ Hinch loves multi-positional players. He wants as much lineup flexibility as he can get.
Still, it’s not every day that your veteran second baseman, a Gold-Glove finalist, comes to you and says he’d like a chance to move around the diamond a little bit. But that’s exactly what Jonathan Schoop said last Friday after he signed back with the Tigers for 2021 at $4.5 million.
“I just want to prove I can play shortstop, that I can play third base, I can play all over, wherever they need me,” Schoop said in a Zoom call Monday. “I can go out there and do it and do it really good.”
There is little doubt about that, though he’s only played 22 games at shortstop and 17 at third base over his eight big-league seasons. But that has more to do with his expertise and consistency at second base, than any deficiencies elsewhere.
“I always played shortstop coming up, but the Orioles signed Manny Machado,” Schoop said. “I moved to third for a little bit but when they moved me to second, no one played better than me. I was fast and I have a strong arm, so that’s where I stuck.
“I turned double-plays really good, so they never moved me from second base.”
Why would you? With the Orioles in 2016 and 2017, Schoop helped turn 255 double-plays. Few in the game make that pivot quicker. In just 44 games with the Tigers last season, he helped turn 25 double plays, 12 were of the 6-4-3 variety — shortstop to second to first.
And he did that with two inexperienced shortstops — Niko Goodrum and Willi Castro.
So, the Tigers won’t take Schoop off second base just to showcase him at other spots. No. They will move him around only as a way to get other players on the field — players like Goodrum and Harold Castro, for example, who figure to be the Tigers’ primary utility players this season.
Presently, the Tigers don’t have a regular first baseman other than Jeimer Candelario, whom they would probably like to use more at third base. They have a young, slugging third baseman in Isaac Paredes who may get some work at second base. So, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched for Hinch to occasionally play Schoop at third, Candelario or Goodrum at first and Paredes at second.
The shortstop position, presumably, is Willi Castro’s to lose. Certainly, though, you could envision Hinch giving Schoop a few days at short to spell Castro, letting either Harold Castro or Goodrum play second.
Because here’s what’s assured — barring injury, Schoop is going to be in the lineup just about every day. This is why the Tigers were holding their breath fearing another team would swoop in with a longer and more lucrative contract offer.
“I was talking with the Tigers (about re-signing) since the end of last season,” Schoop said. “I feel at home in Detroit. I feel good with the guys we have here, the young guys. We built a relationship last year. I feel like we have a really good group, that we can work together and win a lot of ballgames.”
Make no mistake, entering his age-29 season, Schoop felt he’d shown enough, produced consistently enough, over his eight seasons to warrant a multi-year commitment from a team. The Tigers gave him a chance to seek one, it just never materialized.
“The free-agent market was difficult, not just for me, but for almost everybody,” Schoop said. “It’s a little bit frustrating, but there is nothing you can do about it. You just come back and put up good numbers again and help your team win ballgames and be a better player.
“I can control that. I can’t control anything outside of that.”
Toward that end, Schoop, reunited with his old hitting coach from Baltimore, Scott Coolbaugh, has focused his offseason work on trimming his chase rate. He chased 42.3 percent of the pitches outside the strike zone last year — which has been his norm. He’s had a plus-40 percent chase rate in seven of his eight seasons.
“I want to get better every year at everything,” he said. “The things I need to be better at, I’m going to be better. And the things that I’m good at, I want to be a tick better at those things. I’m working hard right now to be better for myself and for my teammates.”
Schoop’s chase rate, like most hitters, goes up when he’s behind in the count. Over his career, he’s posted a .162/.208/.276 slash-line with two strikes. But he’s also done damage — 40 home runs, 53 doubles, 115 RBIs — with two strikes.
“I’m not a speedy guy where I can just shorten up, put the ball in play and beat it out,” he said. “I just have to swing at strikes. When I get two strikes, stay within myself, don’t chase, make the pitcher throw a strike and then hit it hard.
“It’s more of a mindset. Just have to go up with a better plan. Sometimes you’ve got to let him walk you. Maybe he’s not trying to throw you a strike because he wants to get to the next guy. I have to make him throw strikes.”
In four seasons with Coolbaugh in Baltimore, 2015 through 2018, Schoop hit .268 with a .465 slugging percentage and an OPS-plus of 105. That included his All-Star season in 2017.
“He’s a really good hitting coach,” Schoop said. “I know I’m going to do better because he knows me. I have a really good relationship with him as a coach, but we’ve become really good friends, too. I know if I do something wrong, he will jump on me and tell me, ‘Let’s go!’
“I’m really excited to work with him again.”