Orioles infielder Jonathan Schoop made quite the impression on the Aberdeen IronBirds in his three-day stay with the team, capping it off with a 4-for-5 performance that included two home runs (one was a grand slam, which can be seen below), two singles and a walk.
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Schoop will graduate from beating up on New York-Penn League pitching and make his return any day now to the Triple-A Norfolk lineup, which is something that he’s looked forward to for the past two months.
“When I get back [to Norfolk], my goal is to pick it up where I left it,” Schoop told Baltimore Sports and Life before Aberdeen’s game Thursday. “Try my best, do whatever I can do for us to win. I’m just happy to be playing baseball. And I’m happy to go back and see my teammates that I started the season with, see the manager and the coaching staff.”
Schoop, 21, suffered a stress fracture in his lower back earlier this season while playing for the Triple-A Norfolk Tides. He spent about two months in Sarasota, Fla. to rest and rehabilitate his back. He returned to action earlier this month with the Gulf Coast League Orioles.
Schoop said he felt something in his lower back as he was running from first to third in a game on May 12. He finished the game, but the pain got progressively worse as the game went along. When he woke up the next day, his back was aching badly. Schoop visited a doctor four days later and was diagnosed with a stress fracture.
The right-handed hitting Schoop – who ranked second on Tucker Blair’s mid-season top-30 O’s prospect list – hit .268/.331/.386 with nine walks and 25 strikeouts in 139 plate appearances this spring for Norfolk before he was sidelined with the injury.
“I was working at everything, trying to improve on everything,” Schoop said. “I was seeing the ball good. I was [making] good contact. I was playing good ball, too. We were winning a lot. That’s the good thing about it, being on a winning team. We were rolling. I was working at everything – anything that can make my game better each day.”
Schoop, listed at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, spent all of last season with Double-A Bowie at age 20, which is young for the level. He hit .245/.324/.386 with 50 walks and 103 strikeouts in 555 plate appearances. He played second base for the better part of the year, but moved to shortstop once Manny Machado was promoted to the big leagues. He also split time between second and short at Norfolk.
The things Schoop was working on as he moved from Bowie to Norfolk weren’t limited.
“My speed on the bases, my defense, base-running, hitting, [being] mentally stronger, be patient when you need, aggressive when you need,” Schoop said. “I think in baseball, you need to improve at everything. You cannot stay back and only work at one thing.”
As for his rehab in Sarasota, Schoop said the time off didn’t impact his timing at the plate once he began hitting against live pitching. For him, just being away from the game was the most impactful thing to deal with.
“The time off wasn’t difficult at all for hitting. It was just difficult being out of baseball, the thing you love to play,” Schoop said. “It’s the first time I’ve been out two months like that. The first week, I just had to get used to that. Just let it go and work your rehab program to get better. Don’t try to get in there too soon for you to get hurt again.”
Schoop also said some players on the Gulf Coast League and Aberdeen teams have taken the opportunity to pick his brain.
“Some guys come talk to me and ask me about something. I’m young, too. Some of those guys that ask me…they might be older than me. But I have more experience than them and I try to tell them everything that I know. …Personally, I don’t know everything. In baseball, every day you learn something.
“I tell them what I’ve been through and what they can do for them to not go through it.”
First baseman Trey Mancini has gotten his professional career off to a good start with Aberdeen, hitting .325/.375/.447 with seven walks and 21 strikeouts in 136 plate appearances. The Notre Dame product was drafted this June by the Orioles in the eighth round. He signed for a reported $151,900.
The 6-foot-4, 215-pound Mancini made some mechanical adjustments to his swing after arriving in Aberdeen, which have aided in the quality results.
“My hands when I was loading were getting way too far back from my body and I just calmed my trigger down a little bit,” the right-handed hitting Mancini said. “And I’m taking a little stride. I used to just pick my foot up and put it down and it was causing my front knee to come outside of my front foot, which isn’t a good thing.
“I’m staying back.”
His old mechanics didn’t stop him from having a high-end college career, as Mancini posted a .345/.405/.576 line across three years for the Fighting Irish. Those numbers include a monster senior season this spring in which he slashed .389/.431/.603. Mancini said he learned how to control his emotions and stay on an even keel throughout his career at Notre Dame.
“I grew a lot as a player when I was there,” Mancini said. “My freshman year, I’d get too down on myself if I didn’t have a good game. … I would be really hot at one point and then really cold at one point. It kind of taught me to just take it one pitch at a time.
“It’s a long season. It’s a marathon. You can’t get too ‘up’ when you’re doing well and too down when you’re not doing well, so I really learned that in college.”
Mancini’s tools and performance in college helped him become an eighth-round pick, but experiencing college life away from the park prepared him for pro ball, too.
“I don’t think I was ready after high school for this lifestyle,” Mancini said. “But I can really appreciate it and now I love it. Just having a routine every day and being able to play every day. It’s awesome. Being in college, you had to learn how to balance school and your social life with baseball and that taught me a lot. So it’s really helped out here.”
Outfielder Mike Yastrzemski was drafted in the 14th round out of Vanderbilt by the Orioles and has gotten off to a similarly hot start as Mancini has. Yastrzemski, who turns 23 in August, is hitting .325/.435/.455 with 12 walks and 13 strikeouts in 92 plate appearances for the IronBirds.
“Just continuing to learn new things,” said Yastrzemski of his time with Aberdeen thus far. “Learn the way they do things here. Learning a lot of stuff in the outfield. Learning a lot of stuff about hitting. It’s been a great experience so far and I’m looking forward to more.”
Yastrzemski, the grandson of Carl, attended Vanderbilt for four years. He was drafted last spring by the Mariners in the 30th round, but decided play his final year of college ball with the Commodores instead of signing. He hit .312/.411/.449 with a team-high 19 doubles in his senior year. Vanderbilt lost to Louisville in the Super Regionals, a disappointing end to a terrific season in which the Commodores went 54-12 overall and 26-3 in SEC play.
“It was awesome. Going back for my senior season, couldn’t ask for anything more,” said Yastrzemski. “Just going out there and making it a good run for it and it was everything I looked for.”
Yastrzemski, listed at 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, noted that there’s a difference between the instruction he received at Vanderbilt and the instruction received in Aberdeen.
“There’s a little more of a general concept at college,” he said. “Here, it’s more catered to yourself. At college, you’re trying to learn fundamental skills more than here.
“Everyone does everything in college.”