Schoop eager to showcase his versatility

Detroit Tigers
Jonathan Schoop’s return to the Tigers was somewhat expected. His thoughts on moving around the field were not.

“I just want to prove that I can play short, I can play third, I can play all over,” Schoop said during a Monday videoconference with reporters. “Whatever you need me [to do], I can go in there and do it, and do it really good. If I play only second base, it’s good, but I know I can play everywhere. I know I can play short, I know I can play third base, so I just want to show what I can do.”

That sentiment, coming from a Gold Glove Award finalist at second base and a veteran of 805 Major League games at that position, is a twist for a Tigers squad that’s looking for positional versatility under new manager A.J. Hinch.

But how could Schoop’s willingness to hop around the diamond improve a roster that has upgraded its offense since the end of last season but still has a looming vacancy at the corners? Here’s a look at where Schoop has played, and where he could play this coming season.

Let’s start with the obvious: The Tigers re-signed Schoop primarily to fill the void at second base, where he was an everyday player in Detroit last year until a sprained right wrist ended his season in mid-September. Defensively, he registered at +2 Outs Above Average according to Statcast with a 92 percent success rate. Both are fairly consistent with his career averages. He had 31 Defensive Runs Saved from 2016 to 2018 before posting +1 last year. His strongest Statcast metrics came on plays to his right (up the middle) and in. Still just 29 years old, he doesn’t figure to lose a step this year.

If the Tigers are looking for infield stability, keeping Schoop at second for the vast majority of games is the best way to start, even if they end up moving other guys around him.

This doesn’t seem likely, but it isn’t as far-fetched as first reactions would suggest. Schoop signed with the Orioles as a teenage shortstop out of Curacao, played almost exclusively at shortstop his first couple years as a pro, and still played semi-regularly there up to Triple-A before making way for Manny Machado. When the Brewers traded for Schoop for the stretch run of their 2018 playoff push, he made 11 starts at short with 2 Outs Above Average, though the same stint registered at minus-1 Defensive Runs Saved on Fangraphs.

Still, the scenario under which Schoop could be more than a late-inning option at shortstop seems difficult. Willi Castro is the Tigers’ starter going into the season, and Detroit needs to see what he can do there ahead of next offseason’s stacked free-agent class. Niko Goodrum was a Gold Glove finalist at shortstop last year, and has registered 11 Outs Above Average at short over the last couple seasons. Yet the Tigers did lose some depth at short when they lost Sergio Alcantara on waivers to the Cubs.

Here the options become more intriguing. If Jeimer Candelario plays first base on at least a semi-regular basis again, somebody will have to handle third in his place. It could be Isaac Paredes, whose chances of fighting for a spot on the Opening Day roster improved with his outstanding winter-ball campaign in Mexico. It could be Goodrum, but he has made just 10 starts at third in the Majors. But it could well be Schoop, who began his first full season in the Majors in 2014 playing third base before replacing Steve Lombardozzi at second.

Schoop registered negative-2 Defensive Runs Saved in that third-base stint in 2014.

This is where the Tigers could get creative. Schoop hasn’t played first base anywhere, and he said on Monday that he hasn’t talked with Hinch about playing there but that they could discuss it in Spring Training.

The Tigers have traditionally taken defense at first base seriously; former manager Jim Leyland calls it the one position where a sure-handed defender can make the rest of the infield better by converting inaccurate throws into outs. Detroit also has a track record of converting players from other spots to first — Miguel Cabrera in 2008 after Carlos Guillen’s experiment there didn’t go well, Goodrum and John Hicks in 2018 following Cabrera’s season-ending injury, Jordy Mercer down the stretch in 2019 and Candelario more recently. Goodrum could well get more time there this season.

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