BALTIMORE -- In a Minor League system thin on top positional prospects, Jonathan Schoop has been a mainstay on the top of the Orioles' list. The young infielder, who was signed out of Curacao in 2008, was named the sixth-best second-base prospect in all of baseball by MLB.com on Monday.
"Schoop is an interesting prospect in that he's been on radars for such a long time," said Jonathan Mayo, MLB.com's prospect expert. "Sometimes, a player can suffer from being considered a top prospect for too long. It's amazing that he's only going to be 22 for all of 2014."
While Schoop already made his debut as part of September callups, this season could be the year he makes an impact in Baltimore. With the departure of Brian Roberts, who signed with the Yankees, the O's have no clear-cut solution at second. Ryan Flaherty is a strong candidate and the recent re-signing of Alexi Casilla adds enough depth -- when coupled with Jemile Weeks -- to potentially put Schoop at Triple-A to start the season. But that could be short-lived, particularly given executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette's willingness to promote prospects directly from Double-A if need be.
"The thing that stands out most about Schoop is his power, which is better than that of most middle infielders," Jim Callis, senior writer for MLB.com and MLB Pipeline, said of Schoop, who ranks behind only pitchers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman on Baltimore's 20 Top Prospects list.
"He has the bat speed and strength to hit 15 homers per season, maybe more, especially if he can get more disciplined at the plate. He's a below-average runner, which precludes him from playing shortstop on a long-term basis, but his quickness and strong arm would make him a nice fit at either second or third base."
With third base occupied by Schoop's close friend Manny Machado, who made the jump from Double-A to Baltimore in August 2012, and Gold Glove winner J.J. Hardy at shortstop, second is the path of least resistance. Duquette has said publicly that the organization has reached out to Hardy about another extension, and while Machado is uncertain for Opening Day after undergoing knee surgery, he is firmly entrenched at the hot corner while Hardy is in black and orange.
While Schoop saw very limited action with Baltimore, manager Buck Showalter kept him around so that he could observe guys like Hardy and be exposed to as much of the big league experience as possible. Schoop followed that up by playing in the Arizona Fall League, batting .177 with three homers and six RBIs in 16 games to cap an incredibly long baseball season that started with playing for Team Netherlands in last spring's World Baseball Classic.
Schoop, who played at three Minor League levels before being promoted to the Orioles, hit .256 with nine homers and 34 RBIs in 70 games as a 21-year-old for Triple-A Norfolk and was ranked by Baseball America as the organization's top infield arm and power hitter. If he starts the season with Norfolk, Schoop figures to get the bulk of the playing time at second base, although he could also see action at third base and short, particularly with the team signing and outrighting Cord Phelps to Norfolk.
"In the end, I think Schoop is one of those players whose whole is greater than the sum of his parts," Mayo said. "Outside of his arm, none of his tools grade out better than Major League average. But put it all together and you have a player who has the chance to be a big-time contributor as a big league regular."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli.